Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trios: in F,
Vienna Pn Tr
MDG 9421763 (SACD: 64:07)
These are two of Saint-Saëns’s most engaging chamber works. Still an early effort, completed by the 29-year-old composer in 1864, the F-Major Trio seems to take its cue from Mendelssohn, though Saint-Saëns spins a somewhat lighter, airier confection, with a first movement that has a distinctively dance-like
character. The second movement, said to be based on a folk tune from the Auvergne region of France, begins in a furtive, almost foreboding tone, claimed by note author Elisabeth Deckers to recall “similarly pallid movements by Schumann.” Mendelssohn makes a comeback in the brief Scherzo, while the last movement turns to Schumann once again, with a fugato episode reminiscent of the last movement of Schumann’s Piano Quintet.
Saint-Saëns was by no means old when he composed his Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor in 1892, but almost 30 years had passed since its older sibling had been born. Saint-Saëns was surely one of music’s more outré personalities. They say that as we grow older we regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did. Saint-Saëns, I think, was a man who had no regrets. Writing to a friend about his new piano trio, he said, “I am working quietly away at a trio which I hope will drive to despair all those unlucky enough to hear it. I shall need the whole summer to perpetrate this atrocity; one must have a little fun somehow.”
The “atrocity” turned out to be a work in five movements, which exhibits a greater complexity and sophistication than are found in the earlier trio. Two fairly substantial outer movements frame three relatively short inner ones. The dark and somewhat brooding first movement is thought to have been inspired by Tchaikovsky’s A-Minor Trio—the two composers had been friends since the 1870s—while the second and fourth movements are characteristic of Schubert’s German and Viennese dances. Schumann makes another appearance in the brief
, while the last movement, unusual for Saint-Saëns, seems to nod in the direction of Brahms.
The catalog is not exactly overfull with recordings of these two trios, but the ones listed are very, very good. In 29:3, I reviewed and strongly recommended the Trio Wanderer’s version for Harmonia Mundi, and a subsequent release by the Florestan Trio, reviewed in 30:1, made a choice between the two difficult. With the arrival of this latest version by the Vienna Piano Trio, choice becomes even more difficult, for not only do the performances by this estimable ensemble match the excellent playing of the Wanderer and Florestan Trios, but MDG offers an extra incentive with its outstanding SACD recording. All else being equal, I’d have to say that if presented with these three recordings side by side, this new one with the Vienna Piano Trio is the one I’d choose.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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