Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major (original 1854 version) [41.37]
Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor (1855-75) [32.17]
Trio Wanderer (Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian (violin), Raphaël Pidoux (cello), Vincent Coq (piano))
Christophe Gaugué  (viola)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, January 2015
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902222 [73.54]

It is well known that Brahms was forever tinkering with his works when completed, subjecting them to seemingly endless after-thoughts. Seldom satisfied, he revised and revised and revised again. The genesis of the celebrated 1889 ‘final’ version of the Piano Trio in B major is no exception. Its first attempt, dating back to 1854, was completed in a surprisingly short time and submitted to publishers Breitkopf & Härtel who accepted it. Then Brahms’ familiar doubts overtook him and although, thankfully, he did not stop publication he all but abandoned it and treated it with contempt.

The Trio Wanderer’s new recording of this early version of the cherished Piano Trio in B major is very welcome and one wonders about Brahms’ hesitation. It is a very accomplished work with many novel features and an appealing lyricism and nobility as well as delivering more morose, shadowy episodes. The epic length first movement embraces all these moods with the familiar appealing main theme dominant. There are many digressions but concerned with logic and consistent development. Roman Hinke in his excellent programme note suggests that some of this first movement material foreshadows ‘the fantastical world of Gustav Mahler’. The agitated Scherzo second movement was later used almost unaltered in the 1889 version of the Trio. It is an eerie creation taken at a cantering pace initially. Its inspiration is supposedly ‘a somewhat ghostly apparition of strange nocturnal creatures’. The Adagio third movement is altogether warmer in tone with an appealing tenderness although there are stretches of fearfulness and anxiety. As Hinke suggests, it ‘meanders between dream and delirium’. The finale is gloomy. The cello sings, in long bow-strokes, a Beethoven melody from the final lied in Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. The style is of a tragic waltz and surely it is not fanciful to associate its form and mood with that Sibelius would bring to his Valse Triste.

The Trio Wanderer deliver a very elegant, appealingly open, nicely nuanced and balanced performance.

Much of the style and substance of the 1854 version of Brahms’ B major Piano Trio is carried over, albeit in a more mature fashion, into his C minor op. 60 Piano Quartet. It opens with disconcertingly disturbing crashing piano chords and mournful strings with those piano chords possibly then suggesting funeral bells. There is relief with some reluctant lyricism but there is a pervading restlessness to this music, its chord progressions arcane and mysterious. The angry scherzo second movement charges along to a hysterical conclusion through odd harmonic twists and turns. The Andante offers some relief from the gloom with its sentimental warm-heartedness, its cello song prominent and echoed by the violin. The mood is consolatory, the music meandering dreamily before the anger returns with the advent of the Finale which is marked Allegro comodo. The composition was completed in 1875 with Brahms recommending his publisher to ‘put his likeness on the cover ‘in Werther costume’. ‘Furthermore, he continued, ‘you might display a portrait on the title page! Namely a head – with a pistol pointing at it. Now you can form an idea of the music…’ Roman Hinke obliquely suggests that a reason for all this angst was ‘His unfulfilled love for Clara Schumann, in any case is far more than a mere legend.’ Quite.

Polished performances of the original version of the B major Piano Trio and the dark-hued C minor Piano Quartet.

Ian Lace



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