Of the three Schumann piano trios No. 1 in D minor is probably
the most often played. No. 2 in F is the sunniest, while No.
3 in G minor is just one work among many which defy the much-repeated
theory that Schumann was suffering from mental decline in the
I very much like these performances, with only tiny reservations.
The players have a genuine instinct for Schumann's music – its
emotional ebb and flow, its expressive ardour, its blend of
masculine and feminine characteristics, fire and tenderness,
incisiveness and dreaming. As Hans Gál writes in his excellent
BBC Music Guide to Schumann's Orchestral Music: “Schumann's
style is not easy to describe. Exuberance is certainly a most
essential component of it, and a cool, detached approach to
his music is as impossible for the listener as for the performer.
His soul is in every expressive phrase he shapes, and the instrument
has to sing to do it justice.” This is equally true, if not
more so, of the chamber music, and the players on these CDs
are totally sensitive to these requirements. Take the first
movement of the 3rd Trio, in which the composer's rhythmic obsessiveness
becomes particularly intense where Schumann marks “Rascher”,
before the understated, enigmatic ending. In this movement,
within an ideal flexibility of tempo, every expressive nuance
is cherished and there is a real sense of wonder in the new
melody introduced at letter B (bar 35). The completely new material
introduced in the development, including pizzicato quaver passages,
is justly dramatic.
The D minor trio receives a really fine performance, though
the 1928 Cortot/Thibaud/Casals recording will always be essential.
The opening movement is magnificently turbulent, the ghostly
passage at about the midway point (both stringed instruments
playing near the bridge) being sensitively handled. In the slow
movements of both this and the F major trio Gringolts, Kouzov
and Laul capture that vital innig quality. The first
movement of the F major work benefits from a not-too-fast tempo,
while the subtle opening of the finale has the necessary spontaneity.
Among my small reservations are Gringolts' tendency to scoop
or slither in some of his shifts - for example at the opening
of the G minor trio – while, conversely, the players' emotional
turbulence can lead to occasional heavy-handedness. These are
very minor quibbles in the context of marvellously expressive
playing. I gladly live with these excesses as part of their
fiery, passionately involved performances. Late Schumann is
often very elusive. In the same G minor trio, the change of
key at letter D in the finale brings a section which is particularly
difficult to bring off, but these players manage it very well.
The opening theme of this finale is also problematic, the many
grace notes being tricky to negotiate without harming the rhythm,
but again these players make light work of it.
These performances will bring lasting pleasure. The most important
qualities– the true Schumann characteristics already mentioned
– are wonderfully evident and the players' total emotional commitment