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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)

Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15
Trio Bamberg
Recorded at the Meistersingerhalle, Nürnberg, Kleiner Saal, 6-8 June 2002 (Brahms); 31 May - 1 June 2001 (Smetana) DDD


Brahms composed his Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8 when he was twenty-one and it was his first work other than piano music. The composer described the composition as ‘Wild’ returning to the score thirty-six years later to make very substantial revisions. Using original material Brahms completely re-wrote three of the four movements in 1890, changing his youthful conception into a fully mature work. Except for minor editing Brahms only allowed the second movement Scherzo to remain in its original form. It is this revised version that we encounter in performance described as his first piano trio but owing to the amount of revisions made it could more accurately be described as his last.

The performance from the German-based Trio Bamberg is serious, taut and intelligent with a complete sense of commitment. I particularly enjoyed the Bambergs vital and vigorous playing in the Scherzo. Of the alternative versions my premier recommendation is for the eminent Beaux Arts Trio on Philips 438 365-2. The Beaux Arts play with a heartfelt glow and a real sense of joy with more of their unique personality conveyed compared to the more stern and unyielding interpretation from the Trio Bamberg. Playing with real warmth and refinement the Beaux Arts are supremely successful in the raptly beautiful third movement Adagio.

Composed in 1855 the Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15 was Smetana’s first major forward-looking chamber composition . The impetus for the work was the tragic death of his young first daughter. Smetana does not deal with the terrible events of his daughter’s death in the piano trio in a detailed and programmatic way; the score represents a more generalised musical depiction.

The Trio Bamberg are in fine form in the Smetana, really extracting the deeply elegiac and intense nature of the score. They deserve praise for their sensitive and expressive playing in the slow funereal section of the central movement Allegro ma non troppo. I feel obliged to mention the playing of Stephan Gerlinghaus who displays an exquisite tone in the magnificent con expessione cello cantilena of the Finale.

This is a fine release well performed and recorded. The interpretation of the Smetana Piano Trio is especially satisfying.

Michael Cookson

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