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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Allegretto in B flat major, WoO 39 (1812) [6:14]
Franz SCHUBERT (1787-1828)
Adagio in E flat, D897 ‘Notturno’ (1827) [9:13]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 (1847) [27:34]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17 (1846) [25.19]
The Mannes-Gimpel-Silva Trio
rec. 1951-53
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1601 [68:22]

Formed in 1948 the piano trio of violinist Vittorio Brero, cellist Luigi Silva and pianist Leopold Mannes survived for two years until Bronislaw Gimpel replaced Brero. The new trio though, was not of long duration either, disbanding in 1955, and it recorded sparingly. However the two mono Decca LPs disinterred here show that the company clearly wanted a meaty classic, in the form of Schumann’s Op.63 Trio, and satellite works either new to disc, as I believe was the case with Clara Schumann’s Trio, or awkward or rare to programme, in the case of the pieces by Beethoven and Schubert.

Mannes was a fine pianist and Silva a very competent cellist but Gimpel was the star of the group, an outstanding soloist and sonata player who also proved to be a chamber exponent of stature, whether in trios or piano quartets and quintets.

The Beethoven Allegretto is hardly the most scintillating piece and its case isn’t helped by Decca’s plummy 1951 sonics though the congestion is to an extent offset by the fine ensemble sound. Things had materially improved by the time of the Schubert Notturno in February 1953. The piano spectrum is clear and the strings more forward in the balance. Whether solo or union phrasing is affectionately shaped and warmly textured.

The May 1951 sessions for Robert Schumann’s trio took place a few months after the Beethoven and a similar state of affairs pertains; a so-so sound with congestion. Nevertheless, Gimpel is audible, his beautiful tone and veiled, refined playing offering much gratifying sensitivity. Silva is rather a gruff presence in comparison, a good ensemble player but less distinctive soloistically. The dependable Mannes anchors the ensemble tightly. This is a good though in all truth not outstanding performance. The recording is somewhat to blame, as is the imbalance between the string players.

The Clara Schumann trio must have been new to many auditors at the time. It was recorded at the same sessions as the Beethoven and released on Decca DL9555. The piano loses out in the acoustic spectrum, Mannes being set rather far back in the perspective. This is a perceptively voiced performance despite these auditory matters. Once again Gimpel plays beautifully – listen to his lovely playing of the lied at the heart of the Andante – and the charm of the work is well brought out, so too its strongly Mendelssohnian and occasionally salon-oriented writing. Silva measures up well though he can’t quite replicate Gimpel’s authority. Despite my strictures one can certainly hear Mannes’ forceful and sweeping energy in the finale.

This is an enterprising retrieval using good quality Decca originals and engineering them expertly. Any shred of Gimpel is good enough for me and this is an unusual example of his prowess in the chamber repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf



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