The two large-scale works by Dvořák and Smetana are complemented here by the one- movement Elegy, by Josef Suk, Dvořák’s student and later son-in-law. Formed in 2007, the Sitkovetsky Trio performs worldwide and has received numerous awards and critical acclaim, but is here making its début on disc, in a programme perfectly suited to the ensemble’s virtuosic and impassioned music-making.
Brahms (1833-97) devoted much of the 1880s to his three Piano Trios, having decided, as he told a friend, that there was “no further point in attempting an opera or a marriage”. They are among his less familiar chamber works. He originally wrote No 1 as a young man, overhauling it more than three decades later in 1889. All three works – the B major Op 8, C major Op 87 and C minor Op 101 – have a tender, shadowy intensity, without quite the same heart-on-sleeve fervour of the bigger chamber works. The string players here – brother and sister Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff – are regular quartet partners. Together with sensitive pianism from Lars Vogt, ensemble is alert, accurate, never forced: already a favourite CD.
In the age of Argerich, who brings tightrope-walker tension to chamber music, I doubt that anyone plays the Brahms piano trios with the kind of mellow lushness heard here. Katchen's conception of Brahms was large-scaled but smooth, warm without much psychological struggle. Suk was a honey-toned violinist, and although Starker was the modernist among the three, what's notable here is how perfectly in unison he is with Suk (and blissfully in tune). Decca puts the piano in the middle and the string players close up in their own channels left and right. The result is wide-screen and artificial, of course, since it makes the cello sound as loud as the piano. but the sonic effect is quite luscious.
I've saved my remarks about te interpretations for last. The Brahms trios have attracted great collaborations, and I wouldn't place this one above, say, Istomin-Stern-Rose although it runs ahead of the Beaux Art Trio, for sheer beauty of tone if nothing else. The shortcoming here is a tendency toward cautiousness; these are middle-of-the-road readings that don't capture Brahms' deepest passions. He is placed in the sun too often. But the first two trios aren't sturm and drang works. If you want large-scale performances caught in gorgeous sound, here you go.
–Amazon.com [4 stars] reviewer
The quality of the recorded sound is so perfectly clear on this recording, like finely etched crystal, while at the same time it is so robust and resonant, that it is difficult to believe that the piano played on these two marvelous CDs is a replica of a 1785 Walter fortepiano, a smaller and much more fragile instrument than today's modern concert grand pianos.
New Chamber Music by Louise Farrenc
Following the release of her symphonies, our ambitious Louis Farrenc Edition continues with more chamber music by this French composer. Shortly after her first symphony (1841) she composed her first piano trio and performed it herself as the pianist together with two fellow musicians in Paris.
If these performances of Beethoven's earlier Piano Trios by Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Lynn Harrell are suave and sophisticated with a soupçon of sentimentality, well, that's what modern performance practice was like in the '80s. And if that sounds like an appealing manner in which to perform Beethoven's earlier Piano Trios, this is the recording to hear. Perlman, Ashkenazy, and Harrell lean into Beethoven's music, singing everything grandly, sounding everything gloriously, and souping everything up completely. One might argue that Beethoven's Piano Trios, Op. 1, are too Viennese High Classical to respond well to their approach, that the works seem more maimed and mauled then persuasively performed, but one cannot deny that Perlman, Ashkenazy, and Harrell put every iota of their expressivity and virtuosity into their overpowering performances. EMI's early digital sound has been pleasantly remastered for this CD reissue.