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Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Piano Trios Op. 49, Op. 66

Mendelssohn / Trio Alba
Release Date: 04/09/2013 
Label:  Audiomax   Catalog #: 9031793   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Trio Alba
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN Piano Trios: No. 1 in d; No. 2 in c Tr Alba AUDIOMAX 9031793 (SACD: 57:32)

Would you believe yet another recording of Mendelssohn’s piano trios? This one, though, can lay claim to being one of the best I’ve heard yet, and that’s saying something, considering I must have 25 or 30 versions scattered throughout my collection. Exactly one year ago, in issue 36:2 of the magazine, I reviewed a new release of Mendelssohn’s two trios on Genuin, performed by the Leibniz Trio, and called it “absolutely Read more winged.” I was much taken with the ensemble’s fleet playing and sparkling readings of these two evergreen scores, and gave the disc an urgent recommendation. The Trio Alba, a young, Germany-based, multinational ensemble, came into being in 2008 at Graz University, and in the short order of five years has risen to the top rank of piano trios.

Rather than displace the Leibniz’s recording of Mendelssohn’s trios as my current favorite, the Trio Alba offers a different take on these works that complements the Leibniz’s accounts with very different interpretations. This may, at first, sound like a negative criticism, but where the Leibniz’s approach is all lissome and lithe, giving Mendelssohn that leprechaun-like character, the Trio Alba’s approach is almost symphonic in stature. But for one movement, the Andante expressivo of the C-Minor Trio, the Alba’s tempos are slower. Total overall timings are 28:30 for the Alba vs. 26:59 for the Leibniz in the D-Minor Trio, and 29:02 vs. 27:52, respectively, for the C-Minor Trio. Even with the Alba’s faster traversal of the C-Minor Trio’s slow movement— 6:36 vs. 6:55—the Leibniz is still faster in total by 1:10.

Interestingly, though, even at slower tempos, with less off-the-string spring and more sustained legato bowing—i.e., holding notes for their full value—the Trio Alba avoids sounding thick, heavy, or ponderous, any one or all of which can be deadly to these scores. It was a sense of heaviness that contributed to my less than enthusiastic reception of the relatively recent version of Mendelssohn’s trios on Sony, performed by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax. The Trio Alba lends a degree of weight to these performances without bulking them up and making them sound too big for their britches.

No small part of the credit goes to the really outstanding SACD recording, which penetrates the surface of the ensemble’s sound like an x-ray, bringing into focus the many felicitous details of Mendelssohn’s writing, while simultaneously balancing and equalizing the instruments’ voices so that, for once, the nearly nonstop torrent of notes coming from the piano doesn’t overpower the strings.

The one thing about this release that irritates me—and this is an issue I’ve raised before—is that German record companies, of which Audiomax is one (it’s an MDG-produced label), persist in identifying Mendelssohn by his appended Christianized name, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. He fought with his father about it and didn’t approve of it throughout his adult life. So, advice to MDG and other German labels: lose the Bartholdy and get over it.

Other than that, which certainly has no bearing on the performances or the recording, this release of Mendelssohn’s piano trios comes highly recommended, not as a substitute, but as a supplement, to the Leibniz Trio’s CD.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 in D minor, Op. 49 by Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Trio Alba
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
Venue:  Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster 
Length: 27 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 in C minor, Op. 66 by Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Trio Alba
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Germany 
Venue:  Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster 
Length: 28 Minutes 22 Secs. 

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