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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op.8 (Version 1854) [43.09]
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op.101 [21.38]
Vienna Piano Trio: David McCarroll (violin), Matthias Gredler (cello), Stefan Mendl (piano)
rec. Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany, 2016
Reviewed in surround
MDG 942 2008-6 SACD [64.47]

This fine SACD is Volume 2 of the 'complete trios.' Brahms wrote three numbered Piano Trios but the first, Op.8, was published in two versions. On this disc the Vienna Piano Trio perform the earlier 1854 version of Op.8 and it is coupled with the Piano Trio No.3 Op.101. Since Volume 1 (review) contains the later version of Op.8 plus the Piano Trio No.2 Op.87, one assumes they will stop at that and will not record the early A major Piano Trio that is attributed to him (though its authenticity has been questioned). The obvious SACD competition is the fine Guarneri Piano Trio on Praga Digitals who opted to record only the late version of Op.8, along with Nos.2 and 3, also on two discs, but added the A major as a significant makeweight. Their surround recording is perhaps a little less focussed than this new MDG issue but the performances are no less accomplished.

The Vienna Piano Trio were originally formed in 1988 with the present pianist Stefan Mendl. The current members have been playing together since 2015 and have very obvious musical rapport. They have, for three seasons, been Artists in Residence at the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton University, so it has been my privilege and pleasure to hear them live on many occasions. This MDG disc is a most realistic reminder of their superb qualities as players of Brahms. There is a sense of playing as one, along with a massive dynamic range as befits these powerful and, at times, tempestuous pieces. They achieve a perfect balance of unanimity combined with individual displays of excellence, all the time putting the composer first. And what a composer Brahms is in these remarkable works! The original version of Op.8 lasts as long as any one of his symphonies but has a passion and a quality of lyrical invention that quite belies his youth. It would be over two decades before he dared to produce his first symphony but here we have many of the characteristics of such a large scale composition. I believe it was Robert Simpson who described symphonic form as the large scale integration of contrasts. That description fits this piece well. It places great demands on the performers technically and emotionally. The Vienna Piano Trio are simply superb.

The final trio is quite small by comparison but the important outer movements still make considerable demands and show that the 53 year old composer had not lost the passion of the 21 year old, even though the central Presto non assai and Andante grazioso are considerably more relaxed than the central movements of the earlier work.

The spacious acoustic of the Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster makes for an ideal recording environment with just enough 'air' around the players. A nicely detailed set of notes by Brahms scholar Gero Ehlert give the listener a useful guide to repertoire deserving of everyone's attention. Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm provide a clean and wide ranging recording to match the dynamic playing of the trio.

Dave Billinge



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