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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 (1889 revision) [36:19]
Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87 (1882) [31:20]
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101 (1886) [21:35]
Piano Trio in A major, Op. posth. (1853) [34:08]
Trio Fontenay (Wolf Harden (piano); Michael MŁcke (violin); Niklas Schmidt (cello))
rec. Teldec Studio, Berlin, 1987-1989
TELDEC/WARNER APEX 2564692093 [67:40 + 55:43] 
Experience Classicsonline

This duo set unites all of Brahmsí Piano Trios, masterpieces of the genre, in performances of integrity and beauty from the Trio Fontenay.† Whatís even better is that they are now at Warner Apexís super-budget price.

The first trio is the most successful in the set.† This is the work of a young man which has been returned to in maturity.† The Op. 8 trio was Brahmsí first published chamber work, but he revised it for a new edition in 1889.† The first movement shows Brahms at his most intimate deploying a beautiful, warm B major melody heard here in close, clear sound.† The scherzo is driven by a persistent rhythm which retains its jocularity without becoming hard-nosed.† Not for the only time on the disc, Niklas Schmidtís cello unfolds a glorious melody in the slow movement before the finale takes a surprisingly dramatic tone and ends in the minor key. 

The C minor trio could not be a greater contrast. It is a work of stormy passion.† The Fontenay play with real attack at the opening, yielding to a more flowing second subject.† There is a great contrast with the scherzo which is light and filigree in their hands, especially the cello pizzicati which blow a delicate air through the texture.† The slow movement takes its grazioso marking seriously, especially in the way it often pairs the cello and violin against the piano: this is the most conversational movement in the set.† There is a real searching tone to the finale until we break into a lighter major episode to end the work. 

The posthumous trio is a real bonus, though Iím told that there is still some controversy over whether it really is by Brahms.† Whatever the position may be, it still carries the architectural strength that we associate with much later Brahms.† The opening moderato unfolds with purposeful strength, while the scherzo carries a feeling of subdued mischief before melting into its tender trio.† The slow movement has a turbulent middle section framed by moments of Elysian stillness. If the finale is not quite as inspired as its predecessors, it is still played with integrity. 

My only doubts concerned the C major trio, one of Brahmsí greatest chamber works, which didnít convince me nearly as much.† The first movement never seemed to settle down: it seemed as though the Fontenay were searching for the correct tempo - and sometimes even the correct beat - throughout, and they only found it in the closing bars.† The variations of the second movement carried more security and the lyrical ending was gorgeous, while the spidery scherzo unfolded into a gloriously lyrical trio section.† The finale, however, was muscular but somewhat unflinching with few of the nuances this work contains.† Regrettably this was the least convincing performance of the set; a shame considering the workís stature. 

On the whole this remains a very worthwhile survey of Brahmsí complete trios and its price makes it very attractive.† Still, if itís overarching quality that youíre after you can do a lot worse than the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips or, for a more controversial modern reading, try Angelich and the CapuÁons on Virgin.

Simon Thompson




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