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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No.1 in B major Op.8 (1854 rev 1889) [37:04]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Piano Trio in G minor Op.15 (1855) [28:32]
Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio
rec. January 2010, American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY
BRIDGE 9362 [65:45]

Experience Classicsonline

This is certainly not a unique coupling. The Trio Bamberg, for example, recorded the same two trios on Thorofon Classics CTH 2447, though it’s not a disc I’ve heard. One of the interesting conjunctions is that the two chamber works were written a year apart, Brahms’s in 1854 when he was just twenty-one, though he was to revise it in 1889, and Smetana’s in 1855 in the immediate aftermath of his young daughter’s death. There is therefore a chronological logic in thus coupling them, even though they do occupy rather different aesthetic and expressive positions. However, I tend to welcome this kind of coupling, given that, in Czech terms, Brahms always gets coupled with the younger Dvořák.
The Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio is Mark Kaplan (violin), Clancy Newman (cello) and Yael Weiss (piano). Kaplan is by some way the most experienced and has long been a notable chamber player. There is much that is fine, instrumentally, collectively and tonally but they play unevenly. True, they play the Brahms’ first movement exposition repeat, which is welcome, but they can be rather foursquare, and the general tenor of their approach in this opening movement, at least, is rather portly for so essentially youthful a work. As a result the music tends toward sectionality, occasional lumpy phrasing, and lacks the urgency and sweep it needs. The scherzo, and certainly the slow movement, taken at a rapt tempo, work considerably better.
Smetana’s Trio is curiously argued. At points they sound more bad-tempered than anguished, and at other points they sound positively non-committal. Understatement is certainly no vice, but soliloquies lack passion, the vital rhythms in the second movement are rather undercooked, and transitions in the finale are awkward. I don’t know how long they’ve lived with this work, but it doesn’t seem to be really under their fingers expressively. It’s a sobering experience listening to the Suk Trio’s performances of both this trio and the Brahms alongside these ones. In the Smetana, the Suk is passionate, biting, intense, personalised, eloquent and rhythmically knowing. In the Brahms they are urgent and sweeping, tonally congruent, and always keep the music alive.
Despite some virtues, I would look elsewhere for these trios.
Jonathan Woolf  

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