Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101 (1886) [19:57]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Tristia, S.378c (arr. Eduard Lassen rev. Liszt) (1848-1854) [11:43]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (arr. Eduard Steuermann (1932)) (1899) [27:25]
Boulanger Trio (Karla Haltenwanger (piano); Birgit Erz (violin); Ilona Kindt (cello))
rec. 18-21 July 2011, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany

Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 was written in the summer of 1886 while holidaying in an idyllic setting beside Lake Thun, Switzerland. Clara Schumann wrote in 1887, “What a composition it is! Ingenious throughout in its passion, its strength of thought, its charm, its expression! No other work by Johannes has ever so completely overwhelmed me.” It’s certainly a substantial four movement score designed with compact dimensions. In the brusque opening Allegro energico there is a robust intensity to the impressive playing of the Boulanger Trio. Marked Presto non assai the atmospheric Scherzo is performed with sensitivity and flexibility and I enjoyed the pizzicato passages in the central section. The gentle and lightly textured Andante grazioso is given a dreamlike interpretation followed by the imaginatively played vivacious Finale, Allegro molto. I could easily imagine a spectacular Swiss landscape in the forceful and vigorous Trio section.

Liszt is not a composer known for his chamber music. He left only a handful of scores in the genre. Tristia from La Vallée d'Obermann S.160/6 has a convoluted history. Eduard Lassen made an arrangement for piano trio of La Vallée d'Obermann (Obermann's Valley) numbered S.378c which is the sixth of the piano collection the Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), Première Année (First Year): Suisse (Switzerland) (1848-1854). La Vallée d'Obermann seems to be a revision taken from his earlier set of piano pieces Album d'un voyageur from 1835/36. It seems that Liszt revised Lassen’s arrangement more than once adding some of his own material and this arrangement is played here by the Boulanger Trio. Cast in two substantial sections Tristia is a splendid and gratifying score, a lament whose smouldering intensity deserves to be heard more frequently. In the first section the excellent Trio develop a sombre atmosphere of deep despair with the dramatic piano opening setting the tone. There is some really stunning and splendidly well blended playing in this movement. The Trio employ brisk tempi in the second section. Amid an underlying mood of agitation and uncertainty the clouds of sadness lift with shafts of welcome optimism. At 8.22 the tender melody is quite beautifully performed.
A masterwork of the repertoire Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4 is one of Schoenberg’s best known and most accessible scores. Inspired by a mystical poem by Richard Dehmel, Schoenberg originally wrote his substantial Verklärte Nacht for sextet in 1899; seemingly in only three weeks. A version was prepared by Schoenberg for string orchestra in 1917 revising it in 1943. The arrangement for piano trio recorded here was made by the pianist/composer Eduard Steuermann in 1932; inexplicably it is seldom played. Verklärte Nacht is cast in five sections corresponding closely to Dehmel’s poem. It is laid out as one complete movement.
Expertly traversing Schoenberg’s dense and complex writing the Boulanger Trio, playing with deep concentration, take the listener on an intense emotionally and physically draining roller-coaster ride.
Throughout, the piano sound is quite striking and the violin has a beautifully sweet timbre with the cello being velvety and sonorous. The trio achieve a delightful tone. There are decent booklet notes too. With considerable technical command and intelligent expression these are committed performances to turn to again and again.
Michael Cookson

Committed performances to turn to again and again.