Piano Trios: No. 1 in d; No. 2 in c; in c for Violin, Viola, and Piano.
Piano Trio in d,
Maria Bader-Kubizek (vn); Dorothea Schönwiese (vc);
Silvia Schweinberger (va); Hrvoje Jugović (pn) (period instruments)
BRILLIANT 94490 (2 CDs: 95:31)
Every time a new recording of Mendelssohn’s perennial piano trios comes my way, I can’t help but think of the lines from Lewis Carroll’s poem,
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Through the Looking-Glass
: “Four other Oysters followed them, and yet another four; And thick and fast they came at last, and more, and more, and more.”
I’ve lost count of how many versions of these trios I’ve personally reviewed in these pages, let alone how many are sitting on my shelves. In terms of performance and recording, those at hand are very good, but no better than at least a dozen others I’ve named in past reviews. There are, however, a couple of things that make this two-CD set, if not unique, at least less common than your run-of-the-mill release of Mendelssohn’s two popular, numbered piano trios.
One is a work penned by the 12-year-old composer in 1821 for the unusual combination of violin, viola (instead of cello), and piano. It’s understandably derivative and, frankly, a bit trite, giving little hint of the budding talent that would bloom just a year later with the first half-dozen of the string symphonies. Maria Bader-Kubizek, Silvia Schweinberger, and Hrvoje Jugović are not the first, however, to record the piece; and in fact, they’re not the first to perform it on period instruments. In issue 35:6, I reviewed an earlier period instrument version performed by an ensemble named the Van Swieten Society, and that recording, on Quintone, was an SACD. Nonetheless, that disc, titled
The Young Genius,
did not include Mendelssohn’s two mature piano trios, but offered instead two other works from the composer’s youth.
Yet another still earlier recording of this pre-teen trio was reviewed in 35:4. That performance was by the Trio Ceresio on Doron, it was on modern instruments, and it did include Mendelssohn’s two mature trios, but it didn’t receive a particularly positive notice from me due to balance problems in the recording, and the fact that the performances were not competitive with a number of other contenders.
Between the Van Swieten Society and this new entry, I’d have to say that as far as the 1821 trio is concerned, you wouldn’t go wrong with either one. But it’s such a slight, inconsequential piece that I wouldn’t base a recommendation solely on this one work. What it comes down to, I’m afraid, is programming. Assuming you’re even interested in a recording of Mendelssohn’s pre-adolescent trio, would you prefer to have it coupled with two other works by the boy wonder—the D-Major Sextet and the Clarinet Sonata—which, by the way, also have a number of fine recordings; or would you rather have it coupled with another so-so recording of the composer’s two widely recorded numbered trios, of which you probably already have half-a-dozen or more versions?
Yet there remains one other consideration with respect to this new Brilliant Classics release: It also includes a performance of Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio (or Mendelssohn-Hensel, if you prefer), the key of which is correctly identified by the album as D Minor—it’s not D Major, as listed by ArkivMusic. Even here, though, there has been at least one recording I’m aware of that offers Fanny’s trio on period instruments. It’s with Jaap Schröder, Enid Sutherland, and Penelope Crawford on Musica Omnia, and it was reviewed by Susan Kagan in 25:2.
The pianos used in the current performances are an 1836 J. B. Streicher for Felix’s D-Minor Trio; a 2006 copy of a circa 1805 Walter und Sohn by Paul McNulty of Divišov, Czech Republic, for Felix’s early C-Minor Trio; an 1838 Broadwood for Felix’s later C-Minor Trio; and a Johann Michael Schweighofer for Fanny’s D-Minor Trio.
Maria Bader-Kubizek plays a 2002 Johann Rombach copy of a 1734 Giuseppe Guarneri. Dorothea Schönwiese plays a circa 1770 cello by Mittenwald maker Georg Klotz. And Silvia Schweinberger plays a 1793 viola by Prague maker Caspar Strnad. Should any of these fine musicians happen to read this, I hope they will take it as a compliment when I say that their technical mastery of these instruments makes them virtually indistinguishable from their modern counterparts.
It’s not for lack of accomplished, polished performances that I find myself not as excited by this release as I might otherwise be if there weren’t such a glut of recordings of Mendelssohn’s two mature trios in readings, which, in my opinion, are somewhat more spirited and better at capturing the quicksilver character of these scores. Still, if having Felix’s two big trios packaged together with his youthful effort and his sister’s quite lovely and impressive contribution to the genre appeals to you, then I can see no reason not to recommend this budget set.