Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor Op.49 (1839) [29:25]
Piano Trio No.2 in C minor Op.66 (1845) [29:19]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Clavierstücke in canonischer form Op.56 (1845) arr. Theodor Kirchner 1880s [28:27]
Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch (Hagai Shaham (violin); Arnon Erez (piano); Raphael Wallfisch (cello))
rec. 11-13 April 2011, Nimbus Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK.
NIMBUS NI 5875 [77:14]
Despite their perceptible similarity, Mendelssohn’s two piano trios go well as a pair, and are frequently coupled on disc. Together they form one of the cornerstones of the Romantic chamber music. They can be a perfect argument to mobilize against those who do not regard Mendelssohn as a serious composer – a demonstration of composing prowess which is inferior to neither Schumann nor Brahms. Unlike those two, Mendelssohn effortlessly manages to marry the Romantic passions with Classical clarity and simplicity. These are two must-know works, though not necessarily in these particular readings. Unlike many other records we also get a substantial filler – an attractive and rarely heard work by Schumann.
The First Trio starts in a proto-Brahmsian manner: stormy, passionate, with plenty of edge and drama. The slow movement is a sincere love song. There are worries and sorrows in this love story and it becomes troubled at times, yet still yielding love prevails. Next comes a light, quicksilver “Mendelssohn scherzo”, almost a standard in his works, with all the habitual flutter of tiny wings in weightless flight. The finale is a long rondo-style movement which sounds like a precursor to Dvorák’s dances: it is almost a polka in minor key. The effect is cool and fresh, and more than once it returns to the high drama of the first movement.
This music is very taut and concentrated but the performance is by no means a good match. It sounds to me a little spongy and watery. On the positive side, it is not mannered. This is especially vital in the slow movement: the musicians may not express its full magic but their performance has a charming coolness of a fresh forest spring. Yet at times it feels like watching a TV picture that has too much brightness and contrast. The Scherzo is clearly articulated, but the added weight and roughness emphasize the folk-dance, not the elfin qualities. The heavy piano sound gives too much weight to the thick textures of the finale. More lightness would have been a plus, but otherwise the presentation is very well put together. The coda is excellent: fiery and ecstatic. Overall, the performance is expressive and accentuated, but a tad heavy, which is not helped by the recording “from inside”. The instruments stand separate, not always blending seamlessly.
The Second Trio has a similar structure and mood. The opening Sonata Allegro is Kreutzer-like: all rain and wind, all pull and pressure. The second subject is passionately Romantic. The slow movement is quite philosophical: calm and thoughtful, at times plaintive, at times positive and affirmative. The middle episode is more disturbed, yet its passions are subdued. Another busily hustling “Mendelssohn scherzo” follows; its note-spinning is cool. The Trio has a rustic, folk-dance character, with a glimpse of the future “French scherzos” of Fauré. The Finale is mighty, rolling and wide-winged, very heroic.
The opening movement is segmented and does not require as much concentration as in the first Trio; here the presentation of the ensemble is apt. They are expressive and bring to light all the colours of Mendelssohn’s palette. Their reading is more aggressive than lyrical. The piano is too hard in the slow movement: with all this boom-boom, we experience a bumpy ride instead of an enveloping immersion. The music becomes hefty, with insufficient forward momentum and too much pressure. The musicians do not adopt a break-neck speed in the Scherzo: it runs rather than flies. Drama is in and Mendelssohn’s airiness is out. This is possibly due to the close and detailed recording. On the other hand, the drive is excellent, and there is no shortage of excitement. The finale is not too fast, it has good weight, and a resolute, full voice. It is a powerful and beautiful reading: not one of those tight and gripping performances, but grand and imposing.
Schumann’s Six Pieces in Canonic Form are the fruit of composer’s continued interest in contrapuntal writing. They were composed for the pedal piano, but since this instrument did not gain much popularity, they were transcribed for different instrumental combinations by Schumann himself, by Bizet, by Debussy, or – as in this case – by Theodor Kirchner.
The first piece is so Bachian, it could have come from one of his sets of Inventions. The strict canonic technique is very pronounced. The bright, multi-coloured light seems to be coming through stained glass windows. The mood is one of calm, assured happiness. Starting from the next piece, we enter Schumann’s peculiar world. Number 2 is a Romantic song, full of beautiful sadness. It is one of those melodies that can ensure composers today can live Happily Ever After. The generous imagination of Schumann just threw them out into the air, as easily as an illusionist drags ribbons from his hat. This piece is followed by a lively dialog of the two string instruments, like a spirited love duet by two young and happy lovers.
The fourth piece is warm and lyrical. It resembles the gorgeous slow movements of Schumann’s chamber works. The turbulent middle episode is tense and troubled. Number 5 is very interesting and wears a mischievous smile. Almost polka-like, it brings to mind the famous Musical Moment by Schubert, both in the bouncy melody and the character of the tip-toed dance. The cycle closes on a serene note, with a prayer-like melody, slow and tranquil. There are some echoes of Bach again. All calms down, as if in soft, warm twilight.
This performance of Schumann seems to me ideal – emotive, with full sound and good balance, unrushed and beautiful. The Romantic attitude of the performers is especially noticeable here, as literally every note has a Romantic expressiveness.
The recording quality is very good, the sound is clear, and all instruments are well defined. The pianissimos are never lost, and the fortissimos are never painful. I must emphasize the full, ripe sound of the cello, which usually suffers the most from recording balance problems in a piano trio. However, the “bigger” cello does not overturn the balance: it is just heard really well. String instruments are sonorous and juicy, but the piano is a tad heavy: a lighter one would suit Mendelssohn’s works better. The recording is very detailed with the listener placed right between the instruments. As a result, the instruments do not always blend.
An excellent liner-note gives an interesting musical and historical analysis, and also tells us about the performers. It is in English only.
I would endorse this disc for the Schumann, which is interesting and rarely heard. The Mendelssohn trios receive good quality readings but they do not replace the best existing versions.
Oleg Ledeniov
Good quality readings.