Brahms: Piano Trio No. 1; Piano Trio No. 2; Piano Trio No. 3; Piano Trio in A, Op. posth.

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Trio No. 1; Piano Trio No. 2; Piano Trio No. 3; Piano Trio in A, Op. posth.
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Lynn Harrell (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 7 54725 2 DDD
The dark horse here is the Trio in A, which may or may not be an immature piece by Brahms. It surfaced in 1924, among a pile of manuscripts found in Bonn, where he had spent some time as a young man. The Trio was in a copyist’s hand, with the title page (conveniently?) missing, so the only evidence for its authenticity is the Brahmsian flavour of the music itself. It is attractive and skilfully written, but more likely to be a later product by a member of Brahms’s circle than the genuine article.

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Vladimir Ashkenazy, Itzhak Perlman and Lynn Harrell play this early Trio as though they believe in every note, and give a performance every bit as persuasive as that by the Beaux Arts Trio, who included it in their 1986 Brahms set (Philips). The picture is very different, however, when it comes to the three echt Brahms trios. The shadowy Scherzo of the Second Trio (in C major, Op. 87), for instance, is entirely lacking mystery and tension in this new version; and Lynn Harrell’s rather forthright account of the expansive opening cello melody of the Op. 8 Trio (No. 1) is no match for the warmth and tenderness the Beaux Arts’s Bernard Greenhouse brings to it. EMI’s recording is far from ideal, with the strings (and particularly Perlman) far too close for comfort. All in all, and despite some fine playing here, the Beaux Arts remain the safer bet. Misha Donat