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Robert SCHUMANN (1809-1856)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 (1847) [31:10]
Fantasiestücke in A minor for Piano Trio, Op. 88 (1842) [18:23]
Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80 (1847) [26:40]
Kungsbacka Piano Trio
rec. 2018, St. Georges’ Bristol, UK
BIS SACD BIS2437 [76:19]

The Kungsbacka Trio is named after the town in which it gave its first concert. It was founded in 1997 by Swedish violinist Malin Broman, Swedish cellist Jesper Svedberg and British pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips. First prize winner at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 1999 it was later honoured with the Royal Swedish Academy of Music’s Interpret Prize. They have appeared at several international festivals and have gained a reputation as one of Europe’s outstanding chamber ensembles. Over the last ten years the trio has released a series of highly acclaimed Naxos recordings of trios by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and Fauré. The latter was very favourably reviewed here. The conclusion was that whether you are looking to discover Fauré’s chamber music for the first time or are looking for new, dynamic and well-engineered performances to add to your collection, this album is definitely worth your consideration. In the United Kingdom, the Trio has performed at the South Bank Centre, Wigmore Hall, Bridgewater Hall, LSO St Luke’s and the City of London, Cheltenham and Edinburgh International festivals. This Schumann BIS SACD is their first in this repertoire. They were participants on Karin Rehnqvist’s “Arktis Arktis!” back in 2005.

There is a relatively large discography of Schumann’s works for this formation; three piano trios and the Fantasiestücke. David Barker has produced an invaluable discography and review index and amongst the many recordings, I am fortunate to possess those by the Beaux Arts Trio Philips and Florestan Trio Hyperion and following Michael Cookson’s review the Hyperion Trio in a 4 CD set, including other Romantic composers Thorofon. However, these fine works are nothing like as popular as the Piano Quintet, the first in that form, and the sublime Piano Quartet which may, I suggest appear in Volume 2 with a viola player. It was in 1842, his year of chamber music that Robert Schumann took on the combination of violin, cello and piano for the first time. He seems to have decided against releasing the resulting Fantasiestücke as a fully-fledged piano trio, however, but later returned to the work, revising it for publication. The model here is not the large-scale, quasi-symphonic trios of Beethoven or Schubert instead Haydn’s characteristic trio textures spring to mind, especially in the first two movements where the cello largely follows the pianos left-hand bass line.

The two piano trios, here were published in 1847 and Schumann felt the latter was friendlier and gave a more immediate impression. However, the D minor has long been the most popular and bursts powerfully in the first movement and the Kungsbacka produce a thrilling sound that fills the speakers and belies the fact that they are only a Trio. The self defining “Mit energie und leidenschaft” was described by his wife Clara “The first movement is one of the most beautiful that I know”; aptly the Trio was a present for her twenty-eighth birthday. and the Kungsbacka certainly supply beauty and romantic power a plenty. The tripping second movement, emulates the feeling of exuberant fun Schumann exhibited in his “mit humour” in the Five Pieces for Cello. The third movement is more sombre and melancholic and this aptly illustrates Schumann’s dual character; Florestan bold and impetuous; Eusebius introspective and sorrowful nature. The Finale is a real headlong tour de force and I had to pause for some time after it ended to assimilated what I heard; I thought it was magnificent. He used to be described by some critics as the “wrong Schu” but the more I hear from him, and I’ve reviewed quite a lot recently too, the more I appreciate his status in the top rank.

Schumann’s four Fantasiestücke are aptly named and whilst unmistakably contain Schumann’s composition qualities they are indeed slightly inconsequential pieces and certainly don’t have cohesion with each other. Unsurprisingly given one of the aspects of Schumann that appeals, the second “Humoreske” was appealing with a certain plaintive quality, although the length outruns the ideas. The third movement is undoubtedly Schumann in love, he was longing for his wedding when he first wrote the pieces. It has some of qualities of the magical slow movement of his Piano Quartet, also from 1842.

The Kungsbacka continue to extract the best qualities from the material and whilst the finale is not that inspired, it’s certainly well executed and shows the composer’s talent for melody. As well as the Beaux Arts and Florestan, I have a recording of the Fantasiestücke by Martha Argerich and friends in a big “Complete DG recordings’ set; it was reviewed in a smaller DG chamber music collection by Oleg Ledeniov.

The Second Trio, also from 1847 was described by Schumann as making “a friendlier and more immediate impression”. As Stephen Johnson, familiar to BBC Radio 3 listeners, in his useful and typically insightful notes, states the listener (and the performer) has to work a little harder to read between the notes. The work is certainly less accessible than its predecessor but in this splendid performance, its charms are clearly exposed. Again, Clara noted “I love it passionately and keep on wanting to play it!” All is positive and “Florestan “in the exuberant “Sehr lebhaft” opening movement with its sunny atmosphere. As so often with Schumann, I feel the key to this intriguing work is the slow movement. As Johnson points out “at first the movement is warmly songlike, yet the directions it takes can be surprising and there a moment of real disquiet”; all magically realised by the Kungsbacka. The strange limping quality of the third movement is notable and has a clear connection to the second which just adds to the inner mystery of the work. There are hints of the influence of Schubert, but is it more some secret cypher, my speculation between Robert and Clara. Wonderful music but less approachable than the first Trio; there are clouds on the horizon despite declared happiness. The finale doesn’t completely convince that all is well; there are undercurrents of tension. Despite, the clear qualities of the First Trio and its accessibility, the second seems a deeper and enigmatic work, demanding of further study, such as I was fortunate to enjoy with Christopher Rowland, ex-Fitzwilliam Quartet in the slow movement of the Piano Quartet at Ambleside in 1997. There’s a hypnotic quality to the melody at the end and seems to offer more than one possible outcome.

It must be apparent that I was very taken by these performances. The Kungsbacka are fully integrated with Schumann and play with feeling and consummate skill. The recording is warm and clear, like the performances.

David R Dunsmore

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