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Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Piano Trio in G minor, Op.17 [28:21]
Fanny MENDELSSOHN HENSEL (1805-1847)
Piano Trio in D major Op.11 [24:35]
String Quartet in E flat major [18:51]
The Nash Ensemble
rec. 2019, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68307 [71:49]

As the music of Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn becomes to be more appreciated, so more and more recordings of their music appear, chiefly their piano trios, with, to a slightly lesser degree, the String Quartet of Fanny Mendelssohn, and so they should, as these deeply romantic works deserve their place in the chamber music repertoire. Clara’s Trio is now well represented in the catalogues with over twenty recordings, two of which having appeared in the last few months, whilst Fanny’s Trio has not quite been as well served with only about a dozen recordings available, with a similar number of recordings of her String Quartet, with myself now having at least two versions of each work on disc.

Clara Schumann’s reputation revolved mainly around her performances and was regarded as one of the finest piano virtuosos of her day; it is probably for this reason that she only left us two chamber works, the Three Romances for violin and piano and the present Piano Trio, both of them wonderful works. It is no coincidence that Clara’s Trio has garnered more fame and recordings than that of, I am led to believe, any other female composer. Dating from 1846, the Piano Trio predated Robert’s attempts to compose a piano trio of his own and is indeed known to have inspired his own Piano Trio No.3 which is written in the same key. The Trio is set in four movements, with the boisterous, almost restless outer movements, especially the fugal writing of the final, marking this work out as a serious and deeply romantic work, one that was at least the equal of her male counterparts, and in many cases much better. She sets the charmingly melodic Scherzo-Trio section with its almost Beethovenian lilt as the second movement; whilst the gloriously lilting and melodic Andante comes third with its more animated central section. This is indeed a wonderful work and one that deserves top billing here, whilst this performance by the Nash Ensemble offers an ideal interpretation.

The Schumann is followed by Fanny Mendelssohn’s equally romantic Piano Trio which was begun in the same year as Clara’s Trio and completed the following year. Whilst initially encouraged to both perform and compose, by both her father and by Felix, this encouragement was intended as a purely personal experience, with her education and life aimed at preparing her way for marriage and motherhood. It was her husband, the artist and poet Wilhelm Hensel who, similarly to Clara she had met whilst still a teenager and married after a fairly long courtship, really encouraged her musical pursuits, with Felix reluctantly at first coming to accept his sister's musical career. Fanny’s Trio, her penultimate work, was composed as a birthday present for her sister, and whilst I have stated that it is not as impressive as Clara’s, it is still an important and original work which should hold a bigger audience than it does, especially the opening Allegro molto vivace with its bold sweeping piano writing, a real treat. This is a work that whilst it uses Clara’s Trio as a model, is clearly influenced by Beethoven, its rich colours and dramatic gestures making it a most interesting and bold work, especially in this performance.

Fanny’s String Quartet dates from 1834 and is again in four movements that are partially a reworking of an earlier unfinished piano sonata, the Quartet for me is not as good as the Trio, whilst it holds a certain attractiveness it is less self-assured, less original than the Trio. It opens with a slow tranquil movement, which is followed by a bouncing Allegretto which to me shows the influence of her brother Felix, something which is more in evidence in the final Allegro molto vivace. Between these two faster movements is a quite lovely Romanze, which has a pleasing melody that firmly places this work at the heart of early romanticism.

The performance of the Nash Ensemble is exemplary, especially the pianism of Simon Crawford-Phillips in the two trios. Indeed, this is a performance that sheds new light on this music as it exhorts the romantic nature of the music. This is a recording that makes you listen to the music for its own merits, rather than as curios by female composers. Natasha Loges's booklet essay is excellent and informative, and the recorded sound is warm and friendly whilst up to Hyperion’s usual very high standard. A recording which is highly recommended, one which offers the three works in some of the best available recordings of them, especially when presented in this generous coupling.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Stephen Barber
Stephanie Gonley (violin)
Jonathan Stone (violin)
Laurence Power (viola)
Adrian Brendel (cello)
Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)

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