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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80 (1847) [25:59]
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (1838) [18:42]
Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47 (1842) [26:25]
The Benvenue Fortepiano Trio (Eric Zivian (fortepiano); Monica Huggett (violin); Tanya Tomkins (cello)); Adam LaMotte (viola)
rec. Old St. Hilary's Tiburon, California, 25-29 July 2011
AVIE AV2272 [71:07]

I am no reactionary when it comes to period instruments, believing that the gains may far outweigh the losses in music of the baroque and classical periods. Yet in Romantic repertoire the “historically informed” approach is sometimes less successful.

Here and there in Schumann's F major Trio I must admit to finding the sound of these instruments undernourished. At times a lack of vibrato exposes less than pure intonation. Another shortcoming is the slight overshadowing of the cello in fully scored passages, especially in the first movement. Listening with score, I occasionally saw more than I heard. Also, the ideal buoyancy which is always desirable in Schumann is sometimes sacrificed in favour of a certain heavy-handedness. These caveats aside, there is much to admire in this performance of the F major Trio – plenty of energy and momentum in the opening movement, ardent feeling in the glorious slow movement, a suitably quirky rhythmic character in the third, elegance, fantasy and that elusive rhythmic buoyancy in the finale. In the 'minor quibbles' category are one or two of Monica Huggett's expressive shifts – perhaps to compensate for the minimal vibrato – and the rather bathroomy acoustic.

The Benvenue Fortepiano Trio with Adam LaMotte give a superb performance of the even more glorious Piano Quartet, a work which is probably less widely familiar than the Piano Quintet. The quintet is one of those works — along with the Trout Quintet and Dvorak's American String Quartet — with which one might introduce chamber music to a reluctant listener. Yet many seasoned chamber musicians and Schumann aficionados rate the quartet even more highly. As a Schumaniac – to borrow Steven Isserlis's word – I would not like to choose between them.

Eric Zivian's performance of the Kinderszenen is sensitive but does not achieve the utmost poetry, and he is often rather bass-heavy.

Philip Borg-Wheeler



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