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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No.1 in D major, Op.63 [30:54]
Piano Trio No.2 in F major, Op.80 [27:06]
Rhodes Piano Trio
rec. 2-4 August 2012, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK

The first two Schumann Piano Trios are an imaginative choice for this young piano trio, in this their debut recording. The emotional range of these two compositions, and the technical challenges on offer, furnish them with a vehicle for the display of their talents. Also, it is pleasing for the listener to have a new take on chamber works that have not been overly recorded in the studio.
Formed in 2003 at the Royal Northern College of Music, the trio took second prize in 2011 at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. They have also participated in masterclasses with Menahem Pressler, of the famous Beaux Arts Trio, the Florestan Trio, and with Mitsuko Uchida. The Endellion String Quartet, the Gould Piano Trio, Charles Rosen and Alexander Melnikov, amongst others, have also had some influence on their development. Their concert-giving activities have taken them to Europe, USA and Australia, and they have featured in festivals both in the UK and on the Continent.
The two piano trios featured here were composed by Schumann in 1847, when he was thirty-seven years of age. At the time of composition, the composer was working on his opera Genoveva. This was put to one side when he began work on the Trio no. 1 in May of that year. Grief and tragedy were to be a hallmark of that fateful year with the death of his son Emil in infancy,. in June. This was compounded by the unexpected deaths of Fanny Mendelssohn in May and her brother Felix in November; Schumann would act as pall-bearer at his funeral. Composition of the Trio No. 2 was begun before the completion of its predecessor.
The Rhodes launch into the first trio with great passion. They capture the romantic feel of the writing, but never go overboard. It is all very measured and contained. The second movement’s dotted rhythms romp along with rhythmic buoyancy. The trio then finds its centre of gravity in the slow movement. All the necessary ingredients are present in this performance. The Rhodes emphasise the pervasive stark emptiness and melancholy. All this is assuaged in the finale which is truly played ‘mit Feuer’.
In contrast, the Trio No.2 sweeps aside the restlessness and melancholy and is altogether much more upbeat. Schumann himself said of this trio that ‘it makes a friendlier and more immediate impression’. The narrative of the Rhodes’ performance is imbued with sunshine. All in all, this is a sensitively sculpted interpretation.
How does the recording stand up to competition? The only version of the trios that I possessed was that by the Beaux Arts Trio, recorded in the 1970s. For many, these have been the benchmark. The Rhodes offered more intimate performances than their forebears whose conception was grander and larger in scale. I also felt that the Beaux Arts had these works under their skin more. They also have the advantage of giving us Trio no. 3, which happens to be my favourite of the three. Nevertheless, the Rhodes offer captivating performances that will delight in their own right.
These are well-delineated performances, with clear definition around each instrumental line. The recording venue at Champs Hill will take some beating. With comprehensive liner-notes by Helen Wallace, this all adds up to a very welcome issue. Compelling performances and an auspicious start to a promising recording career.
Stephen Greenbank