Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Piano Trio No. 1 in A major, TrV 53 [16:24]
Piano Trio No. 2 in D major, TrV 71 [26:11]
Ständchen, TrV 114 (Piano Quartet) [4:01]
Festmarsch, TrV 136 (Piano Quartet) [5:22]
Two Pieces for Piano Quartet, TrV 169 (Arabische Tanz; Liebesliedchen) [7:43]
Concertante, TrV 33 (Piano Quartet) [2:37]
Amelia Piano Trio (Rieko Aizawa (piano), Anthea Kreston (violin), Jason Duckles (cello)), with Max Mandel (viola) (for the piano quartet music)
rec. 6-12 October 2008, Evans Hall, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut
NAXOS 8.570896 [62:24]

Not unknown, the chamber works from Richard Straussís youth and early maturity benefit from several recordings, including a nine-disc set of the composerís complete chamber music (Brilliant Classics).

The works featured here show Strauss practising his craft based on classical models. Piano Trio no. 1 reflects the influence of Haydn and Mozart, with perceptive adherence to the conventions of eighteenth-century structures. Strauss here demonstrates his ability to assimilate styles while arriving at original creations, not just pastiches of music he might have heard. Formally conscious of the conventions of four-movement style, the opening movement of the Piano Trio no. 1 is sufficiently engaging. Even with something as retrospective in style as the minuet and trio, the content gives a hint of a composer trying to strike out on his own. This emerges in the more extensive Piano Trio no. 2, which Strauss composed a year later. It demonstrates a freer treatment in a work that stands between the late eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth. More individual in style, the second piano trio is more individual, with an idiomatic piano part and colourful scoring. The length of Piano Trio no. 2 is almost double that of the first, and this aspect alone suggests the composerís involvement in developing ideas. Here the Amelia Piano Trio shows its engagement in the music, with the performance standing out for its vibrant sound and tight ensemble.

In the remaining pieces, violist Max Mandel joins the Amelia, in performing Straussís extant pieces for piano quartet. These works date from as early as 1875 when Strauss was eleven in the case of the final piece, the Concertante in C major. It was 1893 when the twenty-nine year old composer wrote his Two Pieces for Piano Quartet. Of the latter the first is an Arabian Dance that takes inspiration from music heard while Strauss was in Egypt and reflects the composerís assimilation of folk tradition. The second piece, which the performers execute convincingly, is the Liebesliedchen, essentially a song without words for piano quartet. Here, the performersí fine ensemble skills emerge well to give a sense of the style they bring to their music-making.

The recording captures the performances well and communicates them to the listener with vivid immediacy. Those interested in Straussís work will find that this music offers fresh perspectives on the composerís development. At the same time, these works are products of a late nineteenth century chamber-music tradition, a lineage that included a number of outstanding works that would be part of the Strauss householdís social and artistic fabric.

James L Zychowicz

Stylish and engaged performances in vibrant sound.