Notes and Editorial Reviews
Stylish and engaged performances in vibrant sound.
Piano Trios: No. 1; No. 2.
(Serenade in G
Arabischer Tanz. Liebesliedchen.
Max Mandel (vla); Amelia Pn Trio
NAXOS 8.570896 (62:24)
According to a review by Alex Ross way back in
22:2, the two Strauss piano trios did not receive their modern premiere until 1996. They were written when the composer was 13 and 14, respectively. These are not even the oldest works on this CD; the Concertante in C is thought to have been composed in 1875, when little Richard was only 11. The most recent, the two pieces for piano quartet (
), date from 1893. By then, Strauss was an old man of 29. For what it’s worth, the Horn Concerto No. 1 and the
actually are earlier works than the two pieces, and if the
is not markedly Strausslike, the concerto almost certainly is.
Listeners are unlikely to guess, then, that these works are by the composer of
. Hindsight being 20/20, one might point knowingly at the last movement of the Piano Trio No. 2 as a harbinger of the composer to come, or at the jaunty
(1886), which also tips its hat at Robert Schumann. I doubt one would come to that conclusion on one’s own, however. Indeed, Schumann’s influence is heard in several places on this CD, particularly in the Piano Trio No. 2. Its predecessor might even be mistaken for the work of one of Beethoven’s or Schubert’s contemporaries. Make no mistake: The young Strauss received the best of instruction, and if the Piano Trio No. 1 (in particular) is hardly innovative, it is well crafted and will not fail to entertain most listeners. The biggest ear-opener on this CD is the
, which is based on a melody the composer heard in Egypt the previous spring. The throaty violin seems to be imitating a middle-Eastern wind instrument, perhaps the ney, in this work, and it is as delightful as it is completely unexpected.
According to the booklet notes by Lawrence Duckles (uncle of the Amelia Piano Trio’s cellist, Jason Duckles), most of these works were never intended for public performance, but were composed for family occasions. One wonders how Strauss would have viewed their appearance in the 1990s. Still, he had no cause for shame, because this is charming stuff. One has become so used to Strauss climbing mountains in his music that a little skipping down the hill is refreshing, and should generate positive feelings for the composer.
Ross reviewed recordings of the trios by the Monticello Trio (ASV) and the Odeon Trio (Capriccio). The former ensemble also includes several of the smaller works included here, but that disc is out of print. The Arts label has recorded Strauss’s complete chamber music on nine CDs, and these discs have been reissued on Brilliant Classics. I might have dismissed that as too much of a good thing, but based on what I am hearing here, perhaps I should not be so hasty. Unfortunately, I have not heard any of the Arts/Brilliant performances. The good news is that I am delighted by the Amelia Piano Trio, which is joined by violist Max Mandel in several of the selections. This is a rich-toned, energetic ensemble, and the music-making has plenty of personality, but no self-indulgence. The trio has been around since 1999 and was mentored by Isaac Stern. Max Mandel, a Canadian currently living in New York, is a versatile musician, and he blends his instrument’s alto voice skillfully with the voices of the other instruments. Overall, this is delightful playing, and the recording team has captured it well. I was a little skeptical when I received this CD. Nevertheless, it is a keeper.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Not unknown, the chamber works from Richard Strauss’s youth and early maturity benefit from several recordings, including a nine-disc set of the composer’s complete chamber music.
The works featured here show Strauss practising his craft based on classical models. Piano Trio no. 1 reflects the influence of Haydn and Mozart, with perceptive adherence to the conventions of eighteenth-century structures. Strauss here demonstrates his ability to assimilate styles while arriving at original creations, not just pastiches of music he might have heard. Formally conscious of the conventions of four-movement style, the opening movement of the Piano Trio no. 1 is sufficiently engaging. Even with something as retrospective in style as the minuet and trio, the content gives a hint of a composer trying to strike out on his own. This emerges in the more extensive Piano Trio no. 2, which Strauss composed a year later. It demonstrates a freer treatment in a work that stands between the late eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth. More individual in style, the second piano trio is more individual, with an idiomatic piano part and colourful scoring. The length of Piano Trio no. 2 is almost double that of the first, and this aspect alone suggests the composer’s involvement in developing ideas. Here the Amelia Piano Trio shows its engagement in the music, with the performance standing out for its vibrant sound and tight ensemble.
In the remaining pieces, violist Max Mandel joins the Amelia, in performing Strauss’s extant pieces for piano quartet. These works date from as early as 1875 when Strauss was eleven in the case of the final piece, the
Concertante in C major. It was 1893 when the twenty-nine year old composer wrote his Two Pieces for Piano Quartet. Of the latter the first is an
Arabian Dance that takes inspiration from music heard while Strauss was in Egypt and reflects the composer’s assimilation of folk tradition. The second piece, which the performers execute convincingly, is the
Liebesliedchen, essentially a song without words for piano quartet. Here, the performers’ fine ensemble skills emerge well to give a sense of the style they bring to their music-making.
The recording captures the performances well and communicates them to the listener with vivid immediacy. Those interested in Strauss’s work will find that this music offers fresh perspectives on the composer’s development. At the same time, these works are products of a late nineteenth century chamber-music tradition, a lineage that included a number of outstanding works that would be part of the Strauss household’s social and artistic fabric.
-- James L Zychowicz, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Concertante, AV 157 by Richard Strauss
Max Mandel (Viola)
Amelia Piano Trio
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