Felix MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) [28:20]
Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1846) [30:12]
Julia Fischer (violin)
Jonathan Gilad (cello)
Daniel Müller-Schott (piano)
rec. 14-16 February 2006, Deutschlandfunk Sendesaal, Cologne.
PENTATONE PTC5186609 SACD [59:04]
Given a spruced up look in line with the new uncluttered Pentatone house style, this is a re-release of a recording that was reviewed by Michael Cookson in 2006, who provided a healthy dose of background information on the works and put this recording up with the best of the alternatives at the time.
With its clean, well balanced sound and the warmly communicative expressiveness of the performers this remains an extremely fine version of these two masterpieces of the Piano Trio genre, but a certain amount of water has passed under the bridge since 2006 so, avoiding historical recordings with fortepiano, I've had a look around to see what recordings of these two trios might appeared since by way of competition.
Recorded in resonant splendour, the Münchner Klaviertrio on the Genuin label in 2008 can sound a bit swampy, and there is some heavy vibrato and late-romantic swooping from the strings which I find less than attractive. The opposite side of that particular coin might be the Mendelssohn Piano Trio on the Centaur label from 2010. These players do their best, but the recording is a bit dry, by no means as refined as that from Pentatone, with the cello oddly central in the mix, muddling up clarity. The Swiss Piano Trio have a super-audio recording on the Audite label that appeared in 2011, the players working the rise and fall of the dynamics very effectively and packing a real punch at climaxes without neglecting the music's more sensitive side. This is a more resonant setting than the Pentatone recording, and this seems to have its effect more on the piano than on the strings which can seem a bit odd at times, but this is still one of the better versions. Again from 2011 there is the Trio con Brio Copenhagen on Orchid Classics, a recording with good balance and a fine performance. Returning to he unity of musicianship between Fischer/Müller-Schott/Gilad is where they win over Trio con Brio which, while very fine, is more of a mixed bag when it comes to string sonorities.
In 2012 the Nimbus label brought us the Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch (review) which I would wish to have loved more but is alas also something of an also-ran, not so much for the performances, which are nicely poised between impassioned romance and classical refinement, but the recording balance, which puts the strings pretty much under your nose with the piano just a little too far away for that nice mix of timbres which makes the music work at its best. The Van Baerle Trio on a Challenge Classics SACD from 2014 is interesting, playing the First Piano Trio from an original manuscript from 1839. These are fine performances but a little too up-close and dry for my taste, with plenty of expressive sniffing. The Sitkovetsky Trio recording on BIS also from 2014 (review) is very fine indeed, having been given 'Recording of the Month' status in its downloaded form (review). This is the version you will want if you seek a really red-blooded account, digging deep and creating a more 'orchestral' set of sonorities than most. This may be too intense for some, but it is very exciting in the fast movements and movingly eloquent in the slow. There are of course others, such as from Trio Dali recorded in 2015. Their release can be found on Zig-Zag Territories (review), but it was not preferred over the Sitkovetsky Trio by David Barker.
Having stomped through this fairly random collection of more or less recent alternatives shows where the refinement of Fischer/Müller-Schott/Gilad shines through. Their combination of dramatic weight and expressiveness remains highly attractive, and while they don't deliver quite the emotional involvement of the Sitkovetsky Trio you might also not always want to be wound-up quite as much each time you listen to these works. For a superbly balanced SACD recording with no nasty rough edges and amongst the finest of performances of these key chamber works you won't go wrong at all with this Pentatone re-release.
Previous reviews: Michael Cookson (original release) ~ David Barker