MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847) Piano Trio no.1 in D minor Op.49 [28:12]
Piano Trio no.2 in C minor Op.66 [30:07]
Mendelssohn Piano Trio
rec. Spencerville Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Silver Spring, Maryland,
12-14 June 2007. Stereo. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2925 [58:19]
Good solid performances of the Mendelssohn trios these. Technically,
there is little to fault, but some may find the approach staid. Melody
is the composer's overriding concern throughout both works, and the
Mendelssohn Piano Trio seem content to let their namesake composer's
melodic lines speak for themselves. There is rarely any feeling of the
performers letting go and allowing the melodies to take flight. Structure,
proportion, ensemble and balance are all precisely controlled, and the
interpretation is certainly true to the texts of the scores. Whether
it is true to the spirit of the music is a matter of opinion.
The Mendelssohn Piano Trio had been performing together for ten years
when this recording was made in 2007, and the internal dynamics of the
group, at least as presented here are fascinating. Fiona Thompson on
the cello provides the solid foundation for the ensemble. She is better
suited to the bass lines than the cello solos, which are lacking in
character. But her playing in the tuttis is ideal, and on the occasions
when Mendelssohn writes lower dynamics for the cello than the other
instruments, her sound always comes through.
Peter Sorokin performs almost throughout as if he were a soloist. His
tone is focused without being narrow. Strangely, his upper register
is rounder and more melodic than the mid to lower range.
Ya-Ting Chang often gives the impression that she is leading from the
piano. Her approach too is soloistic, although not particularly indulgent
in terms of rubato or dynamic extremes. The ensemble between the violin
and cello is good, but there are a couple of places where the piano
is audibly ahead of both. The andante second movement of the First Trio
is a case in point. The reading is fast, at 6:11 almost a minute shorter
than the near-benchmark Smetana Trio recording from a few months ago
(Supraphon SU 4008-2). So why the haste? The piano's occasional anticipations
suggest the brisk tempo was her idea, or at least that she has been
tasked to maintain it.
This faster-than-andante andante demonstrates the best and the worst
of the recording overall. On the plus side, Mendelssohn's expansive
melody can be appreciated in its entirety without the undue distractions
of interpretive detail. And the main theme comes across as very noble
indeed, slightly solemn, but entirely unaffected. On the other hand,
it could easily be argued that the music deserves more indulgence than
this. There is something almost mechanical - ok let's say 'Classical'
– about the brisk, rubatoless piano melodies and dynamically constrained
Better that than too much indulgence I suppose, and as I say, the strait-laced
approach makes the recording an excellent document of the works it presents.
Despite their name, the quality of the performances suggests that the
ensemble are far more familiar with the First Trio than the Second.
There are a number of ensemble problems in the outer movements of the
Second Trio, not serious enough to compromise the quality of the overall
recording, but all the more conspicuous for the precision of the ensemble
in the First Trio.
If you are looking for no-nonsense Mendelssohn, this may be the recording
for you. The technical problems I've mentioned aren't worth dwelling
on as they are generally slight. The lack of interpretive indulgence
is more of an issue. The two works, and the First Trio in particular,
have star-studded discographies, but many of the famous names who have
recorded them have been soloists doing some chamber music on the side.
Not so here; the Mendelssohn Piano Trio are genuine chamber musicians.
This is core repertoire for them, and that is exactly how they play
it – no unnecessary interpretive distractions, just the goods. Gavin Dixon
No unnecessary interpretive distractions, just the goods
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