Brahms: The Complete Trios
Here’s an effective antidote to the notion of Brahms as ‘all beer and beard’. It isn’t often you hear this music played with such delicacy and atmospheric refinement. Connoisseurs of German Romanticism might be reminded of the dream landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich and the captivatingly eerie tales of ETA Hoffmann. And there is no sense of qualities or ideas being projected on to the music: it all seems to come from within. The Smetana Trio do – very occasionally – overstate the case. The opening of the First Piano Trio is a little too languid and dreamy. It takes a while to live up to the con brio marking. But generally there’s no lack of energy or impassioned lyrical verve. The big-boned, long-breathed second theme in the C minor Trio’s first movement is splendid – almost impossible not to sing along at this point. Moreover, given how rich and thick Brahms’s piano textures can be, the fluid momentum the players bring to the fast movements is remarkable.
Overall, these musicians have an especially strong and fine sense of line. The Horn Trio is full of echt-Romantic vistas and half-lights, yet one never loses the sense of where it’s all heading, or of how one idea flows into the next. The Clarinet Trio is a revelation: not at all the austere, reserved piece it often seems, but deeply poetic and full of late autumnal colours. The recording is quite reverberant, and it muddies the strings-piano balance at times, but the warm tone is entirely suitable.