Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trios: CD 1: No. 1 op. 8 in B major [32:02]; No. 3 op. 101 in C minor [20:21]; CD 2: No. 2 op. 87 in C major [28:35]; No. 4 in A major [31:35]
Eskar Trio
rec. Mantziusgarden, Birkerod, Denmark, 2007-2008
CPO 777 642-2 [52:23 + 60:10]
Slightly mixed performances from the Eskar Trio of these gorgeous piano trios by Brahms.
Although the performance of the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor is a fine one, and gave me no cause for concern, I was more troubled by the revised version of the B major Trio, which opens the first CD of the two-disc set. My initial impression was that the string players were producing a rather superficial sound – not connecting adequately with the strings in terms of the distribution of bow weight, resulting in sound that lacked sufficient density. The piano was also pushed too far to the back of the balance, and the pianist, in order to make any sort of impact, has to attack the instrument aggressively - particularly in the fourth movement. This approach was not lyrical enough for my taste.
It was also disappointing that greater attention was not paid to the subtleties of blend between the string instruments, and also to detail. There are missing accents in the second movement, and the Trio section here does not have the necessary lilt - it’s a Ländler. It should also have a Schubertian holding-back which is too often lacking in this interpretation. The end of the fourth movement was especially disappointing. Brahms writes in all the rhythmic propulsion necessary through hemiolas, truncation and elision of phrases, and registration. In this recording the tempo speeds up, with the consequence that the impact and strength is lost.
The second disc contains the second and fourth Trios. On the one hand we have some well-proportioned playing here – the long crescendos, especially, are well-paced. Yet a more concentrated tone is needed overall. This is particularly noticeable in the central section of the C major Trio third movement. The lower register of the cello is not sufficiently clear in these works. In the C major Trio the performers produce good unity of articulation and gesture between the strings in the second movement. More genial energy is needed in fourth movement, and the violinist’s habit of “passing” the bow during legato slurs begins to irritate by the fourth movement of the C major Trio. It’s a serious block to the character of the first subject group of the ensuing A major Trio. There is good character to the second movement of this work, with plenty of menace and drive, yet I would have liked a greater degree of luxury to the legato gestures of the third movement. The piano is rather heavy-handed in the fourth movement Presto.

Em Marshall-Luck
Slightly mixed performances of these gorgeous trios.