BEETHOVEN Piano Trio No. 5. SCHUBERT Adagio in B?, “Notturno.” SCHUMANN Piano Trio No. 3 • Atos Tr • AZICA 71251 (63:57)
I’ve heard positive buzz concerning the Atos Trio, a young German ensemble that is quickly making a mark for itself just as the chamber-music world mourns the loss of the Beaux Arts Trio after an astonishing half century of concertizingRead more and recording. The field is far more crowded now than when Menahem Pressler assembled his fabled threesome in 1955, and in the past 30 years their principal competition (at least in North America) has been the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. This latter ensemble also sponsors the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award (KLRITA) competition, and after garnering several other prizes, the Atos Trio took top honors in this prestigious contest in 2007. This new disc on Azica is fruit of that milestone.
In fact, this is their third recording, on the heels of one featuring trios by Heinrich von Herzogenberg on cpo and another with Brahms, Beethoven (Trio No. 1), and Kirchner on Ars Musici. The trios on this new disc by Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann are described by annotator Laurie Shulman as “less familiar music,” a conclusion I take issue with, although she is certainly correct that there are other trios by these composers that have a stronger presence on the concert stage.
If Beaux Arts excelled in elegant interpretations of classical fare and KLR blossomed in full-throated, virtuosic readings of Romantic repertoire (an oversimplification to be sure), Atos steps easily between these poles as the music dictates. There are absolutely no technical obstacles they don’t easily vanquish, and their range of timbre and articulation are as complete as that of any chamber musicians working today. Listen to the pointed, almost pizzicato-like crispness of Stefan Heinemeyer’s cello in the first movement of Beethoven’s Trio No. 5, matched with exquisite unanimity later by the bow of violinist Annette von Hehn, then blended with the florid, rapid-fire passagework from pianist Thomas Hoppe, all combining for a fleet and nimble, yet stylish and graceful reading. There is an abundance of Haydnesque elegance in their traversal, but when more weight is called for (as in the main body of the opening movement), they have plenty of decibels in reserve. There is a reticent tenderness to their tone in the opening bars of the work, but they pull out all stops in the finale, which bustles with robust sound and unbridled virtuosity. Still, they often turn on a dime as the mood changes, a trait that seems to be a notable hallmark of their style.
Schubert’s single-movement Adagio in E?, D 897 (“Notturno”), was probably intended as the original slow movement of the Trio in B?, but it would be wrong to imagine it a simple, song-like intermezzo. Atos plays it with appropriate weight, conjuring a nearly symphonic creation that seems designed for larger forces (many have noticed its resemblance to the slow movement of the composer’s String Quintet in C). Again, the range of color and dynamics produced by the threesome is breathtaking. This may be the finest version of the work on disc.
Their sound and flow is utterly different in the Schumann, reflective of the moody impulsiveness that courses through much of the music. Yet they frequently switch gears, leavening the prevailing texture when called for. In general, they take a lighter hand with Schumann than the KLR Trio, but the virtuosic flair is there in reserve. The finest Schumann performances are tinged with moments of hair-trigger abandon that this threesome doesn’t quite attain, but their sense of the idiom is nonetheless fully convincing. Tonal sheen and discreet balance are never sacrificed on the altar of spontaneity, a posture that will please some and perhaps disappoint others.
In short, this trio has the goods to stand with the finest chamber groups on the planet, but their raw talent isn’t displayed simply as a way to prove their mettle. Their understanding of these touchstones of the repertoire is deep and vital, and they should, despite their tender ages, be counted among the very best.
I have mixed feelings about the sound, recorded at Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University. Generally it is clean, well balanced, and tonally accurate, but also somewhat dry, clinical, and close. Balance is often a serious issue for piano trios, as the cello can be easily buried by the left hand of the piano, a pitfall mercifully lacking here. Naturally, the recording process can correct ills of this sort, but my gut tells me that they have solved this festering problem of trio performance, owing no doubt to Hoppe’s sensitivity and Heinemeyer’s full-blooded tone. If this disc is an accurate guide, Atos Trio deserves a major label contract and the engineering expertise that usually follows.
Vibrant and AliveAugust 28, 2012By David Johnson (Minneapolis, MN)See All My Reviews"I bought his album after hearing the Schubert on the radio. This is my first hearing of the Atos Trio and am very happy to have found them. There sound is sharp and clear with a warmth and intelligent interpretation of each piece. "Report Abuse