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Robert KAHN (1865-1951)
Piano Trio No. 1 in E major, op. 19 (1893) [31:01]
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, op. 33 (1900) [25:56]
Max Brod Trio (Kerstin Strassburg (piano), Peter Rainer (violin), Christoph Lamprecht (cello))
rec. 2015, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster

In addition to his prolific compositions, Robert Kahn was a pianist, predominantly in chamber ensembles in his adopted city of Berlin, numbering Joachim among his playing companions. He was also a friend and protégé of Brahms, to the extent that he was the only other person allowed to be in attendance when Brahms, with Joachim, performed his third trio for Clara Schumann in 1886.

He wrote four works for this combination; there is also a Serenade for oboe, viola and piano (review). They are in three movements, a point of difference to his mentor, harking back to the fast-slow-fast model of Haydn and Beethoven, omitting the Scherzo. While he was undoubtedly influenced by Brahms, his style is much lighter, his melodies pleasant but not memorable. They don’t plumb any great depths: I have seen the adjective “charming” applied to them. I can’t disagree. A contemporary reviewer described the first as “translucent” which I can see, given the lightness of mood, but also “steeped in radiance and bliss” which is definitely hyperbole.

My survey of piano trios has made one thing clear: lesser composers tend to lack the gift of concision. Kahn had seen the effect of the substantial editing Brahms did on his first trio, and the relative brevity of each of the second and third trios. Despite the examples of these wonderful works and using one less movement, Kahn’s first trio is significantly longer than Brahms 2 and 3, and the second not much better. There is simply not the musical content to sustain movements in excess of ten minutes.

In spite of these reservations, the release of this type of repertoire would normally be a cause for some celebration. The performances are good, the sound quality is fine and the booklet notes very well-researched and informative. I could stop at this point, but in all conscience, I can’t.

The value of this release is undermined, indeed torpedoed, to mix metaphors, by the 2014 release of all four Kahn trios by the Hyperion Trio on the CPO label (review). Our reviewer found much to enjoy in the music, probably more than I have, whilst acknowledging its lightness, describing it as “a decidedly highly-sweetened confection”. His evaluation of the performances was that the Hyperion Trio had “a real empathy for, and belief in this music”. I hadn’t heard the CPO set, but some sampling of the trios in common suggested that there is little to choose between the two recordings. That being the case, it led me to wonder why a year later, MDG and the Max Brod Trio would think it was a good idea to make this new recording. It certainly isn’t because of a price advantage, as AmazonUK lists the MDG at £13.97, and the two-disc CPO set for £15.16.

All this leads to me to the rather odd conclusion that, while there is nothing at all wrong with this release, there seems no good reason to purchase it.

David Barker



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