Ernő DOHNANYI (1877-1960)
Serenade for String Trio in C, Op.10 (1902) [21:55]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Septet in E flat, Op.20 (1799-1800) [39:31]
Kreisler Trio Wien
Andreas Wieser (clarinet), Michael Zottl (bassoon), Wolfgang Vladar (horn), Josef Niederhammer (double bass)
rec. February 2021, Pfarrsaal, Neckenmarkt, Austria

The Kreisler Trio Wien was founded in 2007 and has become one of the most prominent Austrian chamber music ensembles and one of the finest string trios in Europe; the biography in the booklet puts this down to their strong sense of musical culture and excellent musicianship, and it has to be said this recording fully supports these claims. For all that, this appears to be only the second complete commercial recording they have made, having released their debut disc (also on the Paladino label) of Mozart last year.

Coming to the recording studio fully developed as an ensemble, with any rough edges worn off by over a decade of live performing, means that this certainly never feels like a young or new ensemble, but one which is utterly comfortable in its own skin and thoroughly used to playing as a single entity. This a superbly vivid, vivacious, and vital performance of the Dohnányi Serenade, full of incisive rhythmic clarity, gloriously agile articulation and a strong feel for the music’s character and style. Their sense of ensemble, both in the precision of their technical delivery and their deep communal understanding of the musical detail shines out of every moment. The set of variations which constitutes the fourth movement perfectly marries the solemnity inherent in the chorale-like theme with elegance and just the tiniest touch of pathos, and under the carefully paced ministrations of the Kreisler Trio Wien, it seems to evolve organically and perfectly logically to its deliciously calm ending. It is followed by a bright, nimble-toed and delightfully effervescent Finale. Enhanced by a wonderfully alive and positive recording, this is a truly top-notch recording of a work which, in its day, effectively revealed a new and potent voice in chamber music at the dawn of the 20th century.

A century earlier, Beethoven had really wowed Vienna for the first time as a composer with his Septet for “four stringed and three wind instruments” which quickly became so popular that Beethoven reputedly declared, “That damn' work! I wish it had been burnt”. Apart from the fact that it was one of the first significant chamber works to be performed at the dawn of a new century and set chamber music out on a new and revolutionary path, there seems little to explain the unusual programming of this and the Dohnányi trio. There is a loose connection here with the Kreisler Trio Wine’s debut disc – which included a performance of the Mozart Horn Quintet with Wolfgang Vladar – and Vladar is one of the three wind players brought in for the Beethoven on this disc. What made the Septet so revolutionary in its time was the fact that there was just one of each instrument, instead of the usual practice of having these instruments appearing in pairs, and the assumption is that this unprecedented instrumental line-up, and the fact that Beethoven moved away from the conventional distribution of material between the instrument - the bassoon rarely playing in the bass clef while in places the cello soars up as high as a violin - implies that he was writing for an exceptional group of soloists. He certainly would not be disappointed with the line-up of players brought together here around the core of the Kreisler Trio Wien. It was the third movement with its catchy Minuet theme, jauntily announced here by the warm violin of Bojidara Kouzmanova-Vladar, with impeccably crisp double-dotted rhythms, which so excited Beethoven’s ire, yet even his heart would surely have yielded to the no-nonsense approach of these musicians, the movement dancing along cheerfully but with the kind of weight and seriousness of purpose which it does not always receive in recorded performances. Full praise, too, to Wolfgang Vladar who manages that devilishly acrobatic horn passage in the trio with surprisingly delicacy. The mock-solemnity of the opening of the final movement is expertly judged, so that the lead into the skittish March is neither abrupt nor puzzling – just an entirely natural consequence of what has gone before. In addition to exquisite playing at every level, this ensemble has an unusually clear and strong grasp of the work’s overall architecture.

Marc Rochester