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Mendelssohn: Piano Trios / The Florestan Trio

Release Date: 11/08/2005 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67485   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florestan Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Florestan Trio delivers an ardent, sharply honed performance of Mendelssohn's popular D minor trio that easily stands among the catalog's numerous first-rate versions. The hair-trigger dynamic adjustments and linear clarity in these renditions particularly gain from Susan Tomes' dazzling negotiation of the composer's cascading runs and arpeggios with little recourse to the sustain pedal. The group's rhetorical inflections in the slow movement contrast to the Abegg Trio's more austere classicism, while some listeners may find violinist Anthony Marwood's vibrato in the climaxes a bit much.

Similar high standards and astute attention to detail distinguish the Florestan's work in the C minor trio, although the Abegg's
Read more volatile dynamism and cumulative drive better address the composer's respective "fuoco" and "appassionato" for the outer movements. While this disc may not displace your favorite Mendelssohn trio couplings--mine include the Vienna Piano Trio and Trio Fontenay, along with the aforementioned Abeggs--its strong sonic and interpretive virtues merit serious consideration.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com

The pairing of Mendelssohn’s two mature piano trios is a natural one. (There is an earlier trio for violin, viola, and piano dating from 1820, when the composer was 11!) Robert McColley gives high marks to the readings by Trio Parnassus on MDG in 28:1, calling the pieces themselves “masterpieces of the first order.” In 28:4 Paul Ingram praises the new Beaux Arts Trio version of the D-Minor, referring to the work as “one of the major Romantic masterpieces.” I think both reviewers may have gotten a little carried away: this is wonderful music, but the term “masterpiece” shouldn’t be tossed around lightly. If I find these works not quite top-drawer Mendelssohn, it’s because Mendelssohn’s cabinet had more drawers than most composers’, and the top one is both very high and very small: it contains, certainly, the Octet and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream , miraculous products of the composer’s 17th and 18th years; probably the Hebrides ; and, perhaps, a couple other of one’s favorites (in my case the “Italian” Symphony and the Violin Concerto).

Semantic quibbling aside, this is indeed terrific stuff. As the keys suggest, the trios are both serious pieces—while Mendelssohn was probably the most masterful of 19th-century composers at writing light-hearted music in the minor mode (think of the Octet and MSND Scherzos, or the Saltarello finale of the “Italian”), his choice of D Minor and C Minor taps into a well-established sober Affekt that can be recognized, for example, in practically any C-Minor piece by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, or, looking forward, Brahms.

The Florestan Trio has been earning raves in Fanfare over the past several years: for their Beethoven, by Mortimer H. Frank in 26:6 and 28:1, and for their Schubert, by Bernard Jacobson in 25:5 and Susan Kagan in 26:4. Add another to the list: their Mendelssohn-playing is nothing short of stunning. I’m not familiar with their earlier work, but here they cultivate an ideal Mendelssohn sound; the tempos are incredibly fleet—of the dozen or so versions of the D-Minor for which ArkivMusic.com lists timings, theirs is the shortest, beating even the 55-year-old Heifetz/Piatigorsky/Rubinstein by nine seconds—but perfectly controlled. Susan Tomes manages the intricate piano parts’ considerable technical challenges, not only with dead-on precision, but also with exactly the right touch: clean and delicate, but never dry, and never overbalancing the strings. Violinist Anthony Marwood and cellist Richard Lester play as one, with perfect ensemble and intonation. Balances and interplay among instruments are ideal throughout.

All this is captured with wonderful transparency in Hyperion’s recording, with just the right amount of aural space around the instruments. Robert Philip’s notes are detailed to a fault. This has to be one of the year’s top chamber releases. Enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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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:  Florestan Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 in C minor, Op. 66 by Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florestan Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Germany 

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