Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trios: No. 1 in B
; No. 1 in B
No. 2 in C; No. 3 in c; in A,
Horn Trio. Clarinet Trio
Gould Pn Tr; David Pyatt (hn); Robert Plane (cl)
QUARTZ 2067 (3 CDs: 213:18)
Here on three generously filled discs are all of Brahms’s trio works, including the original and revised versions of the B-Major
Piano Trio, op. 8, and the A-Major Piano Trio, which is now widely believed to be an authentic work from the composer’s pen.
The first disc opens with the better known and most often heard 1889 revision of the B-Major Trio. Alice Neary’s rich cello tone and Benjamin Frith’s plush piano immediately plunge us into a vat of dark chocolate fudge, a sonic image soon laced with a touch of cream when violinist Lucy Gould enters several bars later. Sticklers for the letter of the law will be happy to know that the massive first movement exposition repeat is observed.
Characteristic of Brahms, his works within given genres tended to become shorter and more compressed as he grew older. Thus, compared to the B-Major Trio, which is a sprawling piece lasting nearly 40 minutes, the C-Major Trio runs its course in just under 30, while the C-Minor Trio is not only the shortest of the three canonical piano trios, lasting barely 21 minutes, but the shortest of all Brahms’s chamber works and in the words of note author Joanna Wyld, “of epigrammatic concision.” The Gould Trio appropriately refocuses their tonal persona from one of opulence to one of more muscular, concentrated intensity.
This is gorgeous playing that is sure to give pleasure to all but the most discriminating of Brahms devotees. I do have a couple of issues with these performances, however, one niggling, the other somewhat more serious. The lesser of my problems relates to the way Lucy Gould breaks chords across strings, most noticeably in the third variation in the Andante con moto movement of the C-Major Trio. I can’t say it’s wrong, because others do it too, but not to the same extent. It just seems a bit more exaggerated here than I care for.
The other issue concerns tempos and the effect they have on the emotional expressiveness of these scores. The tempos seemed a bit fast at first, but not detrimentally so, until I pulled out my set of the trios with Nicholas Angelich and the Capuçon sibs on Virgin Classics. Of their readings I said in 28:1, “There is intense passion in their playing, and they have a way of finding just the right note in a phrase to emphasize with subtle portamento and nuanced shading.” In an A-B comparison, I found that the Gould Piano Trio is consistently faster in the slower paced movements, with the result that the notes tend to go by without having the poignant, heart-rending impact Brahms surely intended. In the hands of Angelich and the Capuçons, they do; in the hands of the Gould Trio, the emotional level is a bit lower.
David Pyatt in the Horn Trio is superb. He plays with a round, robust tone, and the recording is beautifully balanced, allowing the horn to be heard in its lower register and at mezzo and piano dynamic levels. In 31:5, I reviewed a new release of the work on the Japanese Camerata label with horn player Lars Michael Stransky, which I found much to my liking, but less so its discmate, Brahms’s Clarinet Trio with Peter Schmidl. Here we have an excellent performance by clarinetist Robert Plane, giving the current entry an edge, at least as far as the horn and clarinet trios go.
Of the posthumously published A-Major Piano Trio, which may or may not be by Brahms, the Gould’s performance is as good as any I’ve heard. And of the original version of the B-Major Trio, all I have to say is, thank God Brahms had the good sense to rewrite it.
For those who like things neatly packaged this way, the current set is well worth your attention. Individually, you may find other performances of these works more to your liking; and for an integral set of just the piano trios, minus the questionable A-Major work and the original version of the B-Major Trio, I’m sticking with Angelich and the Capuçons. Otherwise, recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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