Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 (1847) [30:42]
Piano Trio No. 3 in G major, Op. 110 (1851) [27:53]
Voces Intimae (Riccardo Cecchetti (fortepiano); Luigi de Filippi (violin); Sandro Meo (cello))
rec. 19-22 May 2011, FWL Studios, Leipzig, Germany.

Played on period instruments, Voces Intimae has recorded Schumann’s first and third Piano Trios. They use a violin by A. Mariani (1648), a copy of a C. Bergonzi cello from the late 1700 and a J.B. Streicher fortepiano (1847).
Another disc would have accommodated the Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80 and the Fantasiestücke for piano, violin and cello, Op.88. There is also Theodor Kirchner’s arrangement for piano trio of the 6 Études in Canonic Form, Op. 56. Schumann’s works for Piano Trio were greatly inspired by the chamber music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert; all of whom he passionately revered.
The four movement Piano Trio No. 1 was a present for his wife Clara’s twenty-eighth birthday. Of the three Piano Trios this is the longest, most symphonic and most reflective in character, 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 lengthy opening movement feels symphonic in texture, breezy, ebbing and flowing in intensity. In the hands of Voces Intimae the music feels attractive rather than having the beauty that Clara heard. The Scherzo gallops carefully along leaving me wanting additional forward momentum. Its relatively calm central section soon gives way to the return of the surging writing. Like an extended lament the third movement felt sorrowful, rather than exuding the deeply aching melancholy that the finest versions convey. The Finale here conveys a sense of regaining strength and energy. I was left feeling that an input of extra boldness and vigour was required.
Following the Piano Trios in D minor, Op. 63 and F major, Op. 80 it was four years before Schumann in 1851 wrote his four movement Piano Trio No. 3. Amiable and high-spirited this G major score made quite an impression on Clara who commented, “It is unique, full of passion, through and through …” In the highly passionate opening movement with its sweeping lines the finest versions communicate a convincing sense of torment. With Voces Intimae I felt merely apprehension and loneliness. The refined and sensitive second movement has a stormy central section that rudely interrupts the mood before the gentle dance returns. Curiously paced and agitated the Scherzo would have felt more convincing with extra energy. The Finale is played with a moderate degree of spirit but I wanted it to overflow with joy and highlight the uplifting bursts of energy. Schumann however ensures that a sense of restlessness is never far way.
I wanted Voces Intimae to provide a wider dynamic range and broader contrasts of tempi to accord with the firebrand Schumann’s passionate Romanticism. Sadly there was insufficient intensity, deeply felt passion and spontaneity to their playing to emphasise the extremes of emotion that the finest interpreters like the Beaux Art Trio communicate. Recorded in the FWL Studios, Leipzig the sound quality was slightly congested with the instruments not as vividly clear as I wanted. The balance left the recessed cello sounding rather muffled. I usually love the sound of music played on period instruments but the recording failed to allow the instruments appealing sonority or purity of intonation. The fortepiano by J.B. Streicher (1847) is somewhat woody and ‘clompy’ making it generally uncomfortable on the ear.
I can highly recommend the wonderful set of Schumann’s Piano Trios from the masterful Beaux Arts Trio. Recorded in 1971 at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland the polished trio play with remarkable expression, liveliness and refinement. As one would expect from a 1971 recording the Beaux Arts play on instruments with modern stringing. Now over forty years old these evergreen accounts belie their age with the recordings sounding extremely impressive on Philips 456 323-2 (c/w Schumann Piano Quintet, Op. 44, Piano Quartet, Op. 7). Also worthy of praise is the Florestan Trio who play the three Schumann Piano Trios beautifully throughout and with considerable expression. They use modern instruments. The Florestan was recorded in 1998 at St. George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol and in 1999 at the Henry Wood Hall, London. These are on two separate discs: Piano Trios No. 1 and No. 2 recorded in 1998 on Hyperion CDA67063 and Piano Trio No. 3 on CDA67175 (c/w Schumann Piano Quartet, Fantasiestücke). More recently I have enjoyed the set of Schumann’s Complete Works for Piano Trio played on instruments with modern stringing on EMI Classics 0 94180 2. Recorded in 2009/10 at Østre Fredrikstad Kirke, Fredrikstad, Norway the trio are pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff. These players evince natural musicianship in stirring and highly satisfying performances. After four decades the Beaux Arts Trio remains supreme in this repertoire.
Michael Cookson
Insufficient intensity, deeply felt passion and spontaneity.