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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Complete Piano Trios and Quartets
Gould Piano Trio (Benjamin Frith (piano), Lucy Gould (violin), Alice Neary (cello))
David Adams (viola)
Robert Plane (clarinet)
David Pyatt (horn)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, UK, 2004-07 (trios), 2016 (quartets, sextet arrangements)
CHAMPS HILL CHRCD129 [6 CDs: 410:14]

This is certainly a comprehensive coverage of the stated aim “Complete Piano Trios and Quartets” as we get, in effect nine trios, along with the standard three quartets. The trios were originally released on the Quartz label, while the quartets and the sextet arrangements are new recordings.

During the course of my Piano Trio survey, I have remarked more than once that I find the Gould Piano Trio to be a very reliable, solid ensemble that will never disappoint … but that they lack a certain spark, both in interpretation and performance. This results in recordings which are eminently satisfactory but not special; that impression is reinforced here. Perhaps what is missing is a sense of spontaneity: these are all quite restrained readings. This is particularly evident in the quartets, when compared, not favourably, with those by Emanuel Ax, Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo and Yo-Yo Ma (Sony).

The Brahms trios, especially the first two, are my favourite works in my favourite chamber genre, and I have half a dozen recordings that are far preferable to these. I am not stirred at all by them. If you are surprised by the presence of a trio in A major, it is a work that is not universally accepted as by Brahms, and certainly is not in the same class as the three acknowledged ones.

The Clarinet Trio is perhaps the standout performance here. It is an autumnal work, which suits the performance style of the players. Robert Plane is quite excellent. The Horn Trio, not a favourite of mine, is also done well.

As for the sextet arrangements, they were actually requested by Brahms in the 1880s, undoubtedly to make them more accessible for home consumption. Theodor Kirchner was regarded as one of the great arrangers of his era. That may be so, but the transformation has not done the works any artistic favours. By way of example, the beautiful opening to the first sextet loses all its magic in this guise (and remember I love the piano trio combination).

I feel a few words about the presentation are necessary. The product comes in the form of a jewel-case sized hardcover book with the six discs in cardboard sleeves bound either side of the booklet notes. It looks very solid and impressive, but alas, I had only opened it twice before the binding failed and the front CDs pulled away from the rest. Furthermore, the CD sleeves have a small opening at the base, presumably to allow you to push the bottom of the disc up to make it easier to remove. However, it took but a single time taking a CD out and returning it for the glue to begin separating, causing the disc to threaten to fall out. I should add that I am not at all heavy-handed with books and the like.

Flawed as it is, the physical package is at least bargain-priced. Those of you wanting to save shelf space by buying this as a download may be deterred by the pricing on at least one site which is in excess of three times that of the CD set. Ridiculous.

If you want a one-stop shop for the trios and quartets at a good price, then this won’t disappoint, but nor will you be thrilled, except perhaps by the Clarinet Trio.

David Barker

Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, op. 8 (original version) [40:46]
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, op. 8 (revised version) [36:52]
Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, op. 87 [28:55]
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, op. 101 [20:46]
Piano Trio in A major, op. post. [32:42]
Horn Trio in E flat major, op. 40 [28:20]
Clarinet Trio in A minor, op. 114 [24:50]
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25 [40:58]
Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, op. 26 [49:00]
Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, op. 60 [33:51]
String Sextet No. 1 in B flat major, op. 18 (arr. piano trio, Theodor Kirchner) [35:37]
String Sextet No. 2 in G major, op. 36 (arr. piano trio, Theodor Kirchner) [37:17]



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