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Bargiel trios CDA68342
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Woldemar BARGIEL (1828-1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in F major, op. 6 (1851) [37:33]
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, op. 20 (1857) [33:58]
Leonore Piano Trio
rec. 2021, Henry Wood Hall, London
HYPERION CDA68342 [73:31]

Berlin-born Woldemar Bargiel was Clara Schumann’s half-brother, the son of Clara’s mother with her second husband. With the Schumanns’ support, he studied at Mendelssohn’s Leipzig Conservatory, his teachers including Moschelles and Gade. He was one of the “aspiring artists” mentioned by Robert Schumann in his “New Paths” article of 1853, and through his connection to the Schumanns, Bargiel became a close friend of Brahms; they collaborated on complete Schumann and Chopin editions.

With this background, it would be a surprise if his music wasn’t strongly influenced by these giants of 19th century German music. The first trio was written with advice from Schumann, to whom it was dedicated. It owes much in style to him, especially in the nervy and restless rhythms. The Andante second movement is the standout of the four, with a haunting melody begun on the cello. Melodies in the other movements are less inspired, but the interesting rhythms compensate for this. Its outer movements are a little over-extended, over eleven minutes for each, but it is still a good first effort in the genre.

If Schumann was the model for Trio 1, then six years later, we find a distinct shift in style to a more melody-driven one, very much showing signs of contact with Brahms, or at least his first trio, written in 1854. The booklet notes imply that Bargiel and Brahms knew each other before Schumann’s death in 1856, the year before Bargiel’s E flat trio was written. Your attention is grabbed from the opening bars, with a noble melody in the piano that is passed first to the violin and then to the cello. The Andante is quite glorious in its languorous beauty and the Scherzo full of drama. It is perhaps only the final movement where the high standard slips a little. Nevertheless, this is a really fine trio, and has not deserved its obscurity.

The only competition for the Leonores in this repertoire is the prolific Trio Parnassus who recorded all three trios on MDG more than two decades ago. The recordings seem to be no longer available as physical CDs, though you can find downloads on Qobuz and Amazon. Trio Parnassus have been dedicated advocates of unsung piano trios, for which they deserve many thanks. The Leonore performance has more character to it – a problem I frequently have with Trio Parnassus – and better momentum and energy in the fast movements. I was particularly impressed by the playing of cellist Gemma Rosefield. The Hyperion recording is far superior in sound quality – the MDG recording is a little muddy.

Hyperion’s booklet notes are usually the best in the business, but here, the first of the three pages is spent on Friedrich Wieck, father of Clara, seemingly because of the rather tenuous link that Wieck was acquainted briefly with the man who would become Bargiel’s father. While I accept that information on Bargiel is probably fairly sketchy, the amount of ink spent on Wieck seems unnecessary. There is also a typo: the duration for the second trio is incorrect. The sound of the instruments is beautifully natural, but one (or possibly more) of the trio has been miked too closely, as there are some quite audible sniffs.

I presume that the third Bargiel trio will be on the to-do list for the Leonores and Hyperion – it will be interesting to see what they put on the disc with it. I certainly will be looking forward to its release. If you already own and are happy with the Trio Parnassus recordings, the step up in quality to the Hyperion may not be enough to make you feel the need to purchase. If you don’t have these works, this new recording is a very attractive proposition.

David Barker

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