Johannes Brahms (1833-1907)
Piano Trio No 2 in C major, Op 87 (1882)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Piano Trio in D major, Op 1 (1909/10)
rec. 2020, Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie Berlin
AVI-MUSIC 8553513 
This is the second release by the Feininger Trio featuring a Brahms trio coupled with a work by an Austro-German composer of the next generation. The first, had No 3 paired with the Zemlinsky, the final issue, not yet released, will have the Krenek. I have not heard them before, and as far as I can tell, we have not previously reviewed one of their recordings on this site.
The Brahms C major trio is one of the finest works in the genre, and any new recording has a mountain to climb, as everyone will have their favourites already imprinted. For me, it is Pires/Dumay/Wang (DG) and Katchen/Suk/Starker (Decca). By the end of the first minute of the C Major trio, with the first surge of passion from all three players, you will be gripped by the emotions, given a great or even a good performance. Alas, at this point with the Feininger Trio, I had barely noticed they were playing, and I’m afraid it got no better through the whole work. Now, there are two schools of thought - Classical or Romantic - on how to approach Brahms and I lean towards the latter, but I appreciate that the more restrained, less emotional approach is also perfectly valid. However, that doesn’t mean that all emotions are rubbed out, and the playing becomes faceless. The booklet notes quote a review of the Feininger Trio’s playing, praising “their wide range of nuances and timbres”. Sorry, but I don’t hear any of that. The two string players are members of the Berlin Philharmonic, so there is absolutely no issue about their playing, and the same applies for the pianist, but the interpretation simply lacked character. There is little more I can say about the performance – it just left me totally cold.
It is quite some time since I listened to the Korngold, written at the age of twelve, but as I reacquainted myself courtesy of the Feiningers, I found myself again totally uninvolved. So I tried another version (via the Naxos Music Library) – a recent release on Naxos by Spectrum Concerts Berlin, which was awarded a Recommended tag last year (review). Again, the difference was immediately apparent. While the Korngold may not be in the same class as the Brahms (almost nothing is), the Naxos ensemble made it interesting, characterful and appealing. With the Feiningers, it is a matter of all the right notes in the right order at more or less the right tempos, but with no input of personality or feeling.
I have rarely had this reaction to a recording before. Reviews of the Feiningers elsewhere have been generally complimentary, so it seems to be me who has the problem. With free streaming services available, you have the opportunity to listen for yourself, and perhaps find something that I have missed in these performances.
Published: November 2, 2022