Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Piano Trio no.1 in A, AV 37 (1877) [16:24]
Piano Trio no.2 in D, AV 53 (1878) [26:11]
Ständchen in G, AV 168 (1882) [4:01]
Festmarsch in D, AV 178 (1886) [5:22]
*Two Pieces, for piano quartet, AV 182 (1893) [7:43]
*Concertante in C, for piano quartet, AV 157 (?1875) [2:37]
Amelia Piano Trio (Rieko Aizawa (piano); Anthea Kreston (violin); Jason Duckles (cello))
*Max Mandel (viola)
rec. Evans Hall, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut, 8-12 October 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.570896 [62:24]

The accompanying notes warn that it would be "a mistake [...] to dismiss these pieces simply as juvenilia or ephemera", but reviewers have a habit of describing discs like this, where the featured music is neither original nor very bold, as "for completists only". The mistaken assumption made there is that composers are writing to please critics but, naturally enough, they write chiefly for themselves and for audiences. Strauss the old man may or may not have had a soft spot still for these youthful essays of his, but there is no question that a public brought up on Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms - probably the overwhelming majority of concert-goers, if not CD buyers - will greatly enjoy the lyrical beauty and classical proportions of these appealing Viennese sweetmeats. A lack of depth or conventionality of imagination can be ascribed to the fact that these are mainly the works of a young teenage boy - and that boy's melodious music can then be marvelled at for the selfsame reason. What uncontested masterpieces Strauss produced in later life is neither here nor there: this CD will appeal to anyone looking in an unusual place for something tuneful and undemanding.

The Piano Trios are the more significant works. The conservative nature of the later short pieces that fill out the disc a little can be explained by the fact that, according to the notes, Strauss wrote these for family get-togethers - his father was hardly a paragon of radicalism. The brief Arabian Dance that opens the Two Pieces is more bizarre than conservative - but very evocative, all the same!

This is the second recording for Naxos by the US-based Amelia Trio, following a CD of John Harbison's chamber works (8.559243), which included a work they commissioned - his Second Piano Trio. On the present disc they perform beautifully, with considerable style and great respect for Strauss's youth, and with a helping hand from Max Mandel on viola in the final ten minutes of their recital. These pieces have all been recorded before, but relatively infrequently - of four or five previous accounts on CD, it is the Mendelssohn Piano Trio's which stands out as the main competition - their programme for Centaur Records (CRC 2718, 2005) features the two Trios with Strauss's Brahmsian Piano Quartet in C minor op.13.

Sound quality is very good, though the microphones only just about cope with some of the unison playing in the Ständchen. Informative booklet notes are by Lawrence Duckles - a pretty safe bet that he is related to Amelia cellist Jason. The big news is that Naxos have finally introduced a font that is large enough to be read by most people without the assistance of a magnifying glass - long may that practice continue. A second opinion on this disc can be had below.

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Lyrical beauty and classical proportions.

See also review by James L Zychowicz