The Smithsonian Chamber Music Society's raison d'être
is the provision of public access, through concerts and recordings,
to its valuable collection of historical instruments: to "take
the instruments out of their cases and make them sing."
This disc is the third release by the Society on its own 'Friends
of Music' label, the fruit of plans to revive some previously
released material (here,
for example). These are thus oldish recordings, as the dates
indicate, but the Castle Trio are still going strong, still
with the same three members, in fact. Marilyn McDonald is a
professor of violin and Baroque violin in the US, and veteran
of numerous big-label recordings. Lambert Orkis is perhaps best
known for his recordings of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas
alongside Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Nineties. Kenneth Slowik
is the Society's artistic director, has made a hatful
of recordings and his CV is as long and scenic as a country
mile. Their performances in this recital are utterly genial.
For the record, they use a parallel-strung J. B. Streicher piano
of 1846, a 1670 gut-strung Guarneri violin and 1730 Testore
cello. The piano will likely not be to everyone's taste
- though chronologically authentic, it sounds something like
a modern piano with about 10% cimbalom blood. At any rate, this
was at the time the first period recording of both works.
Although Robert Schumann's output was more varied than
Clara's, comparison reveals some striking similarities
in many of their works - not least between their respective
Piano Concertos in A minor and these Trios - indicative of an
ongoing family propagation/assimilation of musical ideas, before
the demands of raising their seven children led Clara, in an
era where more enlightened fathering was still a long way off,
to give up composing at 36.
The two Piano Trios, often paired for performance in 19th century
venues, date from the same period, are both in minor keys, very
alike in overall length, with further strong similarities in
the individual movements - most arresting in the identical-to-the-second
timings of the finales, at least as performed by the Castle
Trio. Both begin in reflective, melancholy mood, but there is
soon some loosening of the collar and the works generally bask
in the lyricism, warmth, energy and understated drama that is
reminiscent always of Mendelssohn where not obviously from a
Schumann pen. The D minor Trio is generally considered to be
the best of Robert's three, and has been recorded dozens
of times before. When this recording was made, there was not
much competition for Clara's Trio; nowadays there is
plenty, including a few coupled with one or more of Robert's.
See especially these reviews of a Naxos
CD that throws in her Piano Concerto, and a delectable 4-disc
set on Thorofon Classics that includes complete Schumann
Trios. Whichever performances are preferred, any suggestion
that Clara's work is in any way inferior to Robert's
is soon dispelled. Movements are pretty evenly matched throughout
for imagination and quality of writing, especially first and
last; whereas Clara's sparkling second shades Robert's,
his luscious third beats her more mundane second.
Sound quality is good - warmish and nicely balanced, with typical
church reverberation. The booklet is housed in a digipak case.
The notes by Kenneth Slowik are informative and well written,
and there is a brief introductory paragraph on each of the soloists,
though nothing about the Smithsonian Society itself.
Incidentally, a new BIS release gives listeners a further chance
to compare the two Schumanns, in a recital of their songs, sung
by the soprano Miah Persson - see review.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk