French Piano Trios
The Florestan Trio has the ability to adapt its style to different kinds of music without any loss of conviction. After Brahms and Schumann comes this French disc showing it equally adept at entering the 1880 salon world of Debussy's youthful Trio, Ravel's brilliant exotic idiom, and the intimate, intense thoughts of Faure's old age. These works appeared together on a fine 1989 disc by the Fontenay Trio (Teldec, 7/92 - nla). If you have this you're not likely to feel dissatisfied, but the Florestan presents a very different view of all three pieces, and in several respects I prefer it. The Florestan generally adopts faster speeds and in the quicker movements Susan Tomes's playing is remarkably light and precise. The finale of the Faure, for example, has a scherzando quality that throws into relief the seriousness of the strings' initial gesture. The string players are always ready to modify their sound to produce special expressive effects - the eerily quiet unison passage in Faure's Andante (track 2, 2'54'') or the vibrato-less duet in the Ravel Passacaille (track 10, 5'15'') - sounding wonderfully remote and antique. The Hyperion recording has greater clarity, too, allowing much more of the fantastical detail in the Ravel Pantoum to emerge.
In the Debussy, the Florestan style is lighter than the more spacious, concentrated Fontenay, stressing elegance rather than trying to search out expressive depths. The latter's playing is more straightforward than the Golub/Kaplan/Carr Trio, whose idiomatic command of rubato results in persuasively free interpretations of the Debussy and the Faure. But the Florestan's freshness, imagination and purposeful directness incline me to put them at the top of my list.