Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 (1854, revised version 1889) [36.48] Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Phantasie Trio (Piano Trio No.1 in C minor) (1907) [15:41]
Hyung-ki Joo (piano)
Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne (violin)
Thomas Carroll (cello)
rec. 2007 Great Hall, Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow (Brahms); Recital Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, London (Bridge) PALADINO MUSIC PMR0076 [52.28]
On Paladino Music the trio of Hyung-ki Joo, Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne and Thomas Carroll has released a recording featuring Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 1 coupled with Frank Bridge’s Phantasie Trio. It’s good to have such an unusual coupling available but I’m not sure if the players are aware that when Bridge’s Phantasie Trio received its first performance the Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 was on the programme.
The Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 is an early work (1853/4) by the fledgling composer. Several decades later in 1889 Brahms radically revised the score with only the Scherzo staying essentially the same. It is this later revised version that the trio play here. Containing such songful melodies in the lengthy opening movement the necessary windswept feel seems rather laboured and the required exuberance in the Mendelssohnian-like Scherzo is missing, feeling a touch ponderous. Tenderly played by the trio the predominantly gentle and submissive writing of the Adagio contains a distinct Schubertian flavour. A blustery feel prevails in the Finale: Allegro but compared to the finest rival accounts everything seems unwieldy and heavy. Recorded in the Great Hall, Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow the sound does the performers no favours with the closely recorded piano reverberant with a metallic edge. The violin tone is a touch sour and the cello seems distant. For its distinguished musicianship and captivating expression my particular favourite recording of the Piano Trio No. 1 is played by the renowned Trio Fontenay from 1989 at the Telex Studio, Berlin on Teldec/Warner. Another recording that has just grown and grown on me is from Nicholas Angelich, Renaud Capuçon and Gautier Capuçon. Recorded in 2003 at Chambéry the trio play with real polish and effortless expression and have the benefit of satisfying sound quality on Virgin Classics.
Of the generation that followed Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Hubert Parry, Frank Bridge is one of the most fascinating and talented of the English composers active in the early part of the twentieth-century. Initially Bridge’s music seems firmly conservative but he was certainly open to European developments. From the 1920s his writing became more progressive; described in some quarters as radical. Walter Cobbett was delighted with Bridge’s first prize at the ‘1907 Cobbett Competition for Phantasie Piano Trio’ describing it as being “of remarkable beauty and brilliance, and stamps him as one of our foremost composers for the chamber… the best thing written as yet for piano and two strings by any British composer.” In 1909 a successful first performance of the work was given by the London Piano Trio at a banquet of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, London. It seems Bridge was called back for two encores. Whilst in his twenties the success of his Phantasie String Quartet and Phantasie Piano Trio established Bridge as a leading composer of his generation in England but today sadly his music is played far less than its inherent quality deserves. I relish the highly passionate reading given to the glorious Phantasie by the trio with playing containing the liberal amounts of vibrancy and emotional intensity when appropriate. Recorded at the Recital Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, London disappointedly the overall sound is let down by the rather splashy and unfocused piano tone. This is the second recording of the Bridge trio by Zambrzycki-Payne and Carroll: the first was as the Dimension Piano Trio in 2012 for Champs Hill Records, with pianist Anthony Hewitt (review). There are few available recordings of the Phantasie trio, a hidden gem of the repertoire, and only one that stands out as ideal. Recorded in 2007 at St. Paul’s School, London, the London Bridge Ensemble excel with playing of vitality and passion on Dutton Epoch. Probably the best known is the 1987 account from the Darlington Piano Trio, a reading where I am left wanting increased passion and vitality but recorded superbly at Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Elstree on Hyperion.
Index points have not been added to three sections of the Bridge work. Another grumble is the short length of the release which is a mere 52 minutes. Either or both of the works that were second and third to Bridge’s Phantasie trio in the ‘1907 Cobbett Competition for Phantasy Piano Trio’ from James Friskin and John Ireland would have made ideal couplings.