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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) [28:30]
Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1845) [29:02]
Trio Alba (Livia Sellin (violin); Philipp Comploi (cello); Chengcheng Zhao (piano))
rec. 26-28 June 2012, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany

Trio Alba was founded in 2008 whilst the players were studying at Graz University in Austria. Their choice to record these two Mendelssohn works was a judicious one as they number amongst the finest piano trios in the Romantic repertoire. They fully stand comparison with those by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Inexplicably they seem relatively rare visitors to the recital hall today.
Mendelssohn found it difficult to reconcile the constraints of the Classical tradition of the 18th century with his own genial Romantic sensibility. Out of this conflict in his artistic temperament came many wonderful works including these two works, amongst the finest of Trios for piano, violin and cello. In 1832 the young Mendelssohn wrote to his sister Fanny stating that “I should like to compose a couple of good trios.” Not long after his marriage to Cécile Jeanrenaud, Mendelssohn did finally compose the first of these in 1839 with the second written six years later.
The Piano Trio No. 1 was an immediate success and has proved to be one of his most perennially popular scores. Mendelssohn’s friend Ferdinand Hiller stated “I was tremendously impressed with the fire and spirit, the flow and, in short, the mastery to be heard in every bar.”In the opening Molto allegro agitato the depth of passion and intensity from the players is immediately apparent. Iwas impressed with their affectionate reading of the genial second movement Andante, a delightful Song Without Words with controlled tenderness fully conveyed. I especially enjoyed the effect when the music slows right down around 5:32 (track 2) - a sublime episode. Such confident carefree playing marks out the short third movement Scherzo built on restless scurrying. Again the complete assurance of the players shines through in the Finale: Rondo marked Allegro assai appassionato. Their playing feels firm and upright yet still allows Mendelssohn’s emotionally dramatic writing to flourish.
The Piano Trio No. 2 bears a dedication to Louis Spohr. At this time in Mendelssohn’s life his already delicate health was deteriorating due to the overwhelming strain of work demands. In addition he was still grieving over the death of his father. His mother’s fragile health was also giving cause for concern. Mendelssohn was ill when he commenced the score and it is no surprise that much of the work reflects those difficult days. In many ways the C minor score is superior to its D minor predecessor although its delights do not reveal themselves quite as easily. The Trio Alba performs the first movement Allegro energico e fuoco with a gratifying vitality that feels strong and powerful. In the genial and calming Andante espressivo suggestions of a dark undercurrent are revealed. Youthful exuberance is a feature of the energetic, elf-like Scherzo that just gallops along yet the players here maintain a sense of complete control. The Finale: Allegro appassionato is conveyed by the trio with forthright determination. The agitated, vigorous writing that concludes the windswept score is put across with convincing ease.
The well balanced sound is close, bright - perhaps just a touch fierce. For my taste a slightly warmer acoustic would have been preferable. The well written booklet notes are most acceptable.
The competition in recordings of the Mendelssohn Piano Trios is extremely fierce with this release from the Trio Alba a strong contender. I have whittled my favourite recordings down to the CD from Julia Fischer (violin), Jonathan Gilad (piano) and Daniel Müller-Schott (cello). Recorded in 2006 at Cologne they provide confident security of ensemble with a compelling sense of enjoyment. They can be heard on Pentatone Classics (SACD) PTC 5186 085.
I played this MDG Audiomax release, a hybrid Super Audio CD, on my standard player.
This is the debut disc by Trio Alba and they play with satisfying immediacy. These vital and expressive performances are a sheer delight.

Michael Cookson