Jacques Thibaud, Alfred Cortot, and Pablo Casals were great musicians and virtuosos with world-wide solo careers. But for one month a year for five years starting in the 1920s, they gave concerts and made recordings as a trio. This produced some of the greatest chamber performances on disc, made between 1926 and 1928. This CD offers five of their recordings in decent sound. Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio and Schubert’s First trio have been available regularly, usually in various and variable EMI CD transfers, some too “hot”. These transfers are closer to the warm presence of the original 78s but are hissy and need a volume increase. But it’s great to have those famous performances as well as the irresistible Haydn G major, the delectableRead more Mendelssohn in D minor, and the broodingly spun out, very romantic Schumann D minor trio spread over two CDs.
At this point, when they were all young, they could do everything required (later recordings by Cortot and Casals are more variable). They each offer glorious tone and complete control. They indulge in wonderful give and take, contrasting and commenting when they trade lines; but when violin and cello must blend Thibaud and Casals provide a gorgeous sound, rarely matched. Cortot, as with all pianists of his generation, rolls chords, gets the left hand (the bass line) in slightly before the right, and Thibaud and Casals aren’t shy about portamento (Thibaud, in the French violin tradition of his time, uses a delicate upward portamento with impeccable control to great effect). Yet all three are elegant and sophisticated players, nothing is overdone, and the values of this way of playing in expression and harmonic pointing are very much to the fore, even if one would expect much more “chaste” and vibrato-free playing today.
These certainly must be the most songful and spontaneous performances of this music, though nothing is scanted or taken for granted. The third movement of the Beethoven is unforgettable in its soulfulness and variety of inflection, but it’s never heavy handed. The Schubert, with its breathtakingly arched lines, its subtly used rubato, and its variety of color is unforgettable. The Haydn has elegance but a sharp wit, and in its final “gypsy” movement, a wild abandon—which none the less is not taken too far (sound sample below). And I don’t know of a more enchanting account of the Mendelssohn—in fact, in all of these pieces, they create the illusion that the music is not even dry on the page, there is such joy and such a strong sense of discovery in the performances. I wish the sound were a little cleaner, but for those who love these pieces and don’t know these performances, this is well worth it.