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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101 (1886) [21.37]
Piano Trio No. 4 in A, Op. posth.* (1856?) [34.12]
Trio Fontenay
rec. Teldec Studio, Berlin, November 1987 and *May 1989
WARNER APEX 2564 61690 2 [55.49]

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These trios share the label "Brahms", along with a recognizable common harmonic language. However, their aesthetic differences are pronounced. The C minor gives us Brahms in his volatile, post-Beethoven firebrand mode. The first movement's opening figures are taut and muscular, an impression retained even as the second theme sings ardently. In contrast, the second movement is shadowy gossamer, reinforced by passages of spooky, bubbling pizzicato arpeggios. The broad, arching Andante grazioso begins rather squarely; only the arrival of the pulsing string triplets at 2:38 brings the needed forward impulse. The taut muscularity returns in the Finale, infused with what passes in Brahms for youthful exuberance.

Though probably composed some thirty years earlier, the A major trio sounds, paradoxically, like the work of a composer tempered by age. The opening movement, lyrical rather than dramatic in conception, is mellow and autumnal. The Vivace ("lively") designation for the second movement belies its minor-key turbulence, with violin and ’cello spinning long phrases over the volatile piano figurations. A hushed, reverent chorale opens the Lento, which gradually builds into anguished outpourings. The lively, buoyant, occasionally insistent finale provides an affirmative conclusion.

The members of the Trio Fontenay, like other first-class chamber players, know how to meld into a unified, responsive ensemble without losing their distinctive timbres - the piano tone gleaming, well-supported piano tone, that of the violin shimmering and expansive, over a warm, vibrant 'cello. Save in that odd tick-tock opening of the C minor's Andante, they are fully attuned to both the composer's mercurial outbursts and his serene, fluid lyricism. The sound is studio-bound but clear.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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