Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio No. 4,
Piano Trio No. 1,
Vienna Pn Tr
MDG 342 1685-2 (75:27) Live: Marienmünster 8/29/2010
Since its founding in 1988, the Vienna Piano Trio has recorded a large portion of the trio repertoire for various labels. Surprisingly, this is my first encounter
with its performances, and the experience has left me with a desire to hear more from what is clearly an excellent ensemble. On this concert recording it plays with near perfection from the technical standpoint and with exemplary coherence, lucidity, and focus. The string players produce a mellow, well-rounded sonority, maintaining a judicious balance between blending and individualization of timbres. The recorded sound on this release offers a realistic perspective, without the highlighting often encountered in studio recordings, and with no audible intrusions of audience noise.
This disc offers a program of three fine works in markedly contrasting styles, and the Vienna musicians provide interpretations that are sensitive, perceptive, and adjusted to the needs of these disparate works. The Beethoven trio is more often encountered in its original form for clarinet, cello, and piano, but it works equally well as a conventional piano trio. It’s a delightful, exuberant work, if lacking the seriousness and depth of Beethoven’s later trios. The Vienna musicians have recorded this piece before, for Nimbus, coupled with other Beethoven trios, but I do not have that recording available for comparison. The performance here is swift and light on its feet, emphasizing the work’s links to the 18th century (it was, after all, written in 1798). The first movement advances briskly, with a scampering gait; after the fluent and refined expressivity of the slow movement, the Vienna players become more assertive in the boisterous finale. An interesting device in this performance is the tendency to prolong rests slightly between sections, creating a heightened sense of expectation. Predictably, the Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio employs a weightier, more emphatic approach, with broader tempi, heavier stresses, and a more liberal application of rubato. That 1969 recording, which aligns this early work more closely with later Beethoven, still sounds very good in its most recent incarnation on Sony. So too does the roughly contemporaneous Beaux Arts Trio recording, the earlier of two by that legendary group, now on a Decca disc. Their approach falls somewhere between the above two poles, but the Beaux Arts violinist, Daniel Guilet, articulates a bit less precisely than his rivals, especially in the rapid passages of the finale. Like the Beaux Arts, the excellent Florestan Trio (Hyperion) is less weighty than Stern
but more deliberate than Vienna. The latter holds its own in this distinguished company with a distinctive and persuasive interpretation.
Given the lightness of touch and classical poise the Vienna musicians display in the Beethoven, I wondered how they would adjust to the passion and turbulence of the Schumann. As it turns out, poise and refinement remain but are combined with all the energy and fervor the work requires. The players skillfully navigate the rapid shifts of mood in the first movement while maintaining a satisfying continuity and flow. The scherzo is brilliantly played, very lively but not too fast, in full agreement with the composer’s instructions. The slow movement proceeds at a quicker tempo than in most performances and gains in fluency and passion as a result, without seeming at all rushed. The finale, too, is fervently played, with effective realization of dynamic contrasts. Refinement is also a feature of the Florestan’s performance on Hyperion, with tempi in the first two movements that are quite similar to those of the Vienna players. From there the two performances diverge, with the Florestan opting for more deliberation and touches of portamento from the violinist in the slow movement and a faster, lighter approach to the finale. It would be difficult to choose between these two excellent performances. For something different, one could turn to the Yuval Trio (Centaur), where refinement is replaced by a maximum of energy, forcefulness, and forward pressure. The close-up recording complements the aggressiveness of the interpretation, and the overall effect is exciting but a bit crude by comparison with the above two renditions. The Beaux Arts Trio (in a later incarnation, with Isadore Cohen as violinist, on Philips) also gives a fine performance, broader in the first movement than any of the above but not at the expense of energy and momentum.
Ravel’s wonderful trio also receives an excellent performance from the Vienna musicians. They are especially attentive to subtle dynamic gradations throughout the work and effectively realize its tremendous range of feeling, from hushed, mysterious pages to raging climaxes. The former have an unearthly stillness and repose, an almost hypnotic quality, while the latter combine lucidity with the requisite explosive force. While the Vienna ensemble tends to adhere firmly to a set tempo, Trio Wanderer (Harmonia Mundi) is more flexible and employs a lighter tonal palette, in a rendition especially notable for clarity and transparency of texture. The first-movement climax on that recording is almost frenzied (but flawlessly executed), while the Passacaille third movement is taken at a quicker, flowing pace. Flexibility of tempo is also a feature of the Beaux Arts Trio’s 1983 recording (Philips). That ensemble offers a more deliberately paced reading of the first and third movements and a generally more relaxed and less intense approach than the above two ensembles. But the first-movement climax and the coda of the finale are wild and brilliant, played with impressive virtuosity.
I can readily recommend the excellent Vienna disc to all lovers of chamber music. Although alternative approaches may also be rewarding, in each of the three works offered the Vienna Piano Trio’s performances are competitive with the best.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
Works on This Recording
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A minor by Maurice Ravel
Matthias Gredler (Cello),
Wolfgang Redik (Violin),
Stefan Mendl (Piano)
Vienna Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1914; France
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