The Benvenue Fortepiano Trio perform chamber works by Schumann

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann
WORKS: Piano Quintet; Märchenbilder; Fünf Stücke im Volkston
PERFORMER: Benvenue Fortepiano Trio; with Carla Moore (violin), Jodi Levitz (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2365  

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You might expect the most substantial piece in a programme to be offered first on a CD. Instead, in this enticing Schumann chamber music selection, the Piano Quintet is placed last. But there is also a strong case for putting the best recording first – and perhaps that’s what the Benvenue Fortepiano Trio and their guest performers have done, for this show is stolen by the viola playing of Jodi Levitz and fortepianist Eric Zivian in the Märchenbilder. Levitz’s narrative flair, virtually technicolored tone and warmth of emotional identification make the music leap to life, creating fairytale magic in earnest. Next, cellist Tanya Tomkins joins Zivian in a heartfelt, lyrical account of the Fünf Stücke im Volkston.

With such a promising build-up, one hoped for more from the Piano Quintet itself, but oddly, the performance feels a bit laboured at times. Eric Zivian draws a beautiful, singing tone from the fortepiano (frustratingly, I can find no mention of its pedigree in the CD information); but from first violin Monica Huggett the ratio of effort to sustained tone seems skewed unduly towards the former. More vibrato, even just a teeny-weeny bit more, would not hurt in this expressive, Lieder-like music. But instead, a lack of sostenuto and moments of unhappy intonation distract the ear from the musical substance and make the ensemble feel uneven. A pity. But do hear the disc for the Märchenbilder.

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Jessica Duchen