Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Complete Works for Piano Trio

Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 (1847) [31:16]
Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80 (1847) [25:47]
Six Études in Canonic Form, Op. 56 (arr. Theodor Kirchner) (1845) [17:58]
Piano Trio No. 3 in G major, Op. 110 (1851) [28:06]
Fantasiestücke for piano, violin and cello, Op.88 (1842) [18:26]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano); Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Tanja Tetzlaff (cello)
rec. 24-26 September 2009, 15-18 May 2010, Řstre Fredrikstad Kirke, Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway
EMI CLASSICS 0941802 [75:15 + 46:41]

This double CD set of Schumann’s Complete Works for Piano Trio is a welcome addition to the chamber music catalogue. The trio prove to be fine ensemble giving both stirring and satisfying performances. There is a something very natural about the musicianship on show here.

Schumann’s works for Piano Trio were greatly inspired by the chamber works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert - all great masters that he passionately revered. Composed in 1842 the little suite of Four Character Pieces was Schumann’s earliest work in the genre. He later revised it for publication in 1850 as his Fantasiestücke, Op. 88. It is an appealing and rewarding score, light and melodic in texture. The first piece is the shortest - a tender yet rather serious Romanze. A far lengthier piece, the Humoreske is light-hearted and buoyant with a touch of seriousness. Like a gentle dialogue the violin and cello play a delicate Duet over sensitive piano accompaniment. I enjoyed the joyous reverie and march-like rhythms of the Finale.

For a library version of the Fantasiestucke I can enthusiastically propose the 2002 Berlin account from Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer and Mischa Maisky. The starry cast performs with spontaneity, swiftness and great zeal on Deutsche Grammophon 463 700-2. (c/w Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 25 with Yuri Bashmet, viola)

In 1845 Schumann composed his Six Études (Studies) in the Form of Canons for Organ or Pedal Piano, Op. 56. Schumann’s friend Theodor Kirchner later arranged these for piano trio. Light, varied and enjoyable pieces the breezy first is quite lovely. Étude two is tender, a touch demure and the contrasting third is melodic and expressive with a distinct sighing quality. The fourth is a charming romantic song, the highly rhythmic fifth piece is dance-like followed by the sixth, a heart-breaking elegy heavy with loneliness.

Schumann composed his four movement Piano Trio No. 1 in 1847. He gave his wife Clara the score as a present for her twenty-eighth birthday. This is the longest, most symphonic and most reflective in character. It is regarded by many as the greatest of the three. Clara recorded in her diary that, “The first movement is one of the most beautiful that I know.” The appealing opening feels symphonic in texture with a windswept and restless ambience. The Scherzo swells with forward momentum. Its relatively calm centre soon gives way to the return of the surging writing. Like an extended lament the third movement exudes a deeply aching melancholy. The boldly resolute Finale is more positive and ebullient.

It was typical of Schumann to follow one successful work with another in the same genre. He began preliminary work on his four movement Piano Trio No. 2 before he had finished the D minor, Op. 63. In her diary Clara noted, “I love it passionately and keep on wanting to play it!” The high-spirited opening evokes a sense of summer and open spaces. The rapturous slow movement is highly appealing. Agreeable and somewhat delicate the music feels rather too slow for a Scherzo more in the manner of a Minuet. A breezy Finale with a curious hesitancy increases in speed but is soon reined back in.

Following the F major Piano Trio it was four years before Schumann in 1851 wrote his four movement Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 110. The amiable and high-spirited score made quite an impression on Clara who commented that, “It is unique, full of passion, through and through…” Schumann dedicated it to his friend the composer Niels Gade. In the opening movement the highly passionate, sweeping lines carry the burden of anxiety. Refined and sensitive the second movement has a stormy central section that rudely interrupts the mood before the gentle dance returns. A curiously paced and agitated Scherzo contains swiftly changing tempi and moods. The Finale overflows with joy and uplifting bursts of energy, however a certain restlessness is never far away.

For alternative accounts of Schumann’s three Piano Trios I can recommend the exceptional set from the eminent Beaux Arts Trio. Recorded in 1971 at La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland the polished trio play with remarkable liveliness and refinement. Now over forty years old these evergreens belie their age with the recording remaining extremely impressive (Philips 456 323-2 c/w Piano Quintet, Op. 44 and Piano Quartet, Op. 7).

The accompanying booklet contains a fine essay from David Threasher.

It is pleasing to have such fine accounts from the Andsnes-Tetzlaff trio but they do not replace some of the more established versions. Even so the music is closely recorded, warm with a well balanced sound quality.

Michael Cookson

It is pleasing to have such fine accounts from the Andsnes-Tetzlaff trio but they do not replace some of the more established versions.