Schumann Piano Trios

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Guest

Schumann Piano Trios

  • Piano Trio No. 1
  • Piano Trio No. 2

I had always thought of Schumann’s First Piano Trio as his finest chamber work after the Piano Quintet, but the Florestan Trio have encouraged me to think again about the Second Trio – a wonderful piece, full of poetic ideas and a telling example of the composer’s ‘mastery of unity in diversity’, to quote Misha Donat’s excellent note.
The Florestan makes vigorous work of the first movement’s urgent thematic interrelations and Anthony Marwood takes a songful view of the Eichendorff-Lieder quotation at 1'49''. The real surprise, however, is the third movement, a lilting barcarolle awash with significant counterpoint, although the heart of the Trio is surely its slow second movement, deeply personal music with a piano part that – from around 6'12'' – clouds with equivocal dissonances.
Both trios date from 1847, and yet their differences are more marked than their similarities. The Second Trio is mellow, loving and conversational, but the First is troubled, tense, even tragic – save, perhaps, for its unexpectedly Mendelssohnian finale. The dark-hued opening sets the mood and the Florestan project its urgency without blurring its contours. They play the repeat and bring a visionary quality to the quiet, shimmering sul ponticello passage (5'34'') that sits near the beginning of the development section. Donat comments on Schumann’s condensed exposition, a minefield for unwary interpreters, who can so easily lose the wood for the trees. Not the Florestan Trio, however, who realize the music’s myriad perspectives, coaxing its arguments rather than confusing them. Marwood, in particular, employs some subtle portamento and varies his use of vibrato (from fairly insistent to virtually non-existent), whereas Susan Tomes never forces her tone. Real teamwork, I would say, equally in evidence for the gently cantering scherzo and the elegiac slow movement (one of Schumann’s finest).
Competition is strongest in the vintage field, but I would unhesitatingly place the Florestan ahead of their digital rivals. Still, if you buy this CD and enjoy what you hear, then I would urgently recommend searching out the classic pre-war Thibaud-Casals-Cortot set of the First Trio and Menuhin, Casals and Horszowski in the Second (part of a four-CD Prades Festival set). Menuhin and his colleagues discover untold beauties in the slow movement: their reading is truly unforgettable. Bargain hunters might also like to consider the Beaux Arts Trio’s 1970s recordings of the three Trios, the Piano Quartet and the Piano Quintet, neatly packed into one Philips Duo collection. The Beaux Arts are more interpretatively conventional – might I say more strait-laced? – than the Florestan, and not nearly so well recorded, but their integrity and directness are perennially satisfying. But if the present coupling appeals, then do try to make the Florestan Trio your first port of call. '

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