Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Piano Trio No.1 in F major, Op. 18 (1863) [29:56]
Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op. 92 (1891) [34:11]
Vienna Piano Trio (Bogdan Božović (violin); Matthias Gredler (cello); Stefan Mendl (piano))
rec. 16-18 June 2012, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
When Saint-Saëns was born in Paris in 1835 Mendelssohn had twelve more years to live, and when Saint-Saëns died in Algiers in 1921 Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring was already eight years old. Sadly by the time of Saint-Saëns’s death his popularity in France had diminished significantly since around the time of the First World War the public taste in music had changed. In recent years the music of the multi-talented Saint-Saëns has been undergoing a welcome resurgence as thankfully it is being judged for its intrinsic quality rather than the dynamic of the era in which it was written. For many decades in nineteenth century France there had been an insatiable appetite for all things operatic and to a lesser degree solo piano music was also popular. Although Saint-Saëns carried on the opera tradition, writing thirteen operas himself, he was a trailblazer for French chamber music. He was highly prolific in the chamber field writing some fifty scores including the two piano trios contained on this MDG disc. Composed some twenty-eight years apart the piano trios have become much better known thanks to excellent recordings by the Joachim Trio/Naxos; Florestan Trio/Hyperion and Trio Wanderer/Harmonia Mundi.  

Since reviewing the Vienna Piano Trio’s 2011 release titled ‘Vienna Piano Trio Live!’ of works trios by Beethoven, Ravel and Schumann, the violinist Wolfgang Redik, a founding member, has stepped down and has been succeeded by Bogdan Božović. For those interested in these things Božović is playing a loaned Stradivari ‘Arma Senkrah’ (1685); Matthias Gredler a cello by J.B. Guadagnini (1752) and Stefan Mendl a Steinway Concert Grand Piano D (1901). I have seen photographs of this extraordinarily beautiful piano looking resplendent in its bright and shiny rosewood veneered exterior.  

The Piano Trio No.1 in F major, Op. 18 completed in 1863 is a relatively early work written before Saint-Saëns had completed any of his 13 operas. Cast in the traditional Classical Viennese four movement style the score had to wait until 1867 for its première. I especially enjoyed the first two movements with their memorable themes that linger long in the memory. The opening movement Allegro vivace featuring a rhythmic and attractive main theme is played by the Vienna Piano Trio with buoyancy creating a warm, optimistic character to the writing. The Andante with its main theme taken from an Auvergne folk song is perhaps even catchier than that in the first movement. Here the Vienna Piano Trio conveys an overall mood of song-like reflection together with suggestions of yearning.
From 1891 the Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op. 92 is a substantial five movement score containing more complex writing than the earlier F major Piano Trio. At this time Saint-Saëns was in his full maturity having already completed seven of his operas including Samson and Delilah written fourteen years previously. Saint-Saëns much loved Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 73 ‘Organ Symphony’ had been composed five years earlier at a time generally considered to be the pinnacle of his creative output. I was struck by the lengthy opening movement Allegro non troppo with its brisk surging forward motion. Providing an appealing contrast is a calm melody on the strings. In the Grazioso, poco allegro the Vienna Piano Trio communicate a cheerful spring-like quality pervaded with classical restraint that brings Schubert to mind. Throughout one senses that the Trio is totally involved in the music offering compelling performances that draw the listener in. So richly accomplished the Vienna Piano Trio play with unerring unity and intonation. Recorded at the Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster the sound quality is closely recorded with a fine clarity. In the forte passages the piano blurs slightly at the edges but this is nothing to worry about too much.
From my collection of recordings of the Saint-Saëns piano trios only the accounts from the Florestan Trio can match these performances from the Vienna Piano Trio on MDG. Playing with conviction and liberal amounts of style and expression the Florestan Trio was recorded in 2004 at the Henry Wood Hall, London on Hyperion CDA 67538. A very popular disc for some time has been the assured performance from the Joachim Trio who play with freshness and polish. The Joachim was recorded in 1993 at the Conway Hall, London on Naxos 8.550935. Another recording worthy of consideration is from the confident Trio Wanderer for their ability to convey elegance and expression. Recorded in 2004 at the Salle Modulable IRCAM, Paris the Trio Wanderer account was originally issued on Harmonia Mundi HMC 901862 and reissued on the label’s Musique d'Abord series on HMA 1951862.
This is the fourth release I have of Saint-Saëns’ chamber music on MDG, a label that is doing sterling work in championing the French composer. Played by the excellent Vienna Piano Trio this MDG release of the Saint-Saëns Piano Trios will complement any chamber music collection.
Michael Cookson  

This will complement any chamber music collection.