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Brahms: Piano Trios, Vol. 1 (Greenwich Trio)

Greenwich Trio (Linn Records)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Piano Trios, Vol. 1: No. 2 in C; String Sextet No. 2 in G (arr. Kirchner)
Greenwich Trio
Linn Records CKD715   65:01 mins

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This first volume of Brahms’s piano trios includes an arrangement of the G major String Sextet of 1865 for piano trio by his friend Theodor Kirchner. Arranging was a popular way of bringing large-scale works to a broader audience; Brahms himself made piano-duet versions of some of his bigger works, including the symphonies, and he was unhesitating in recommending Kirchner’s piano trio arrangement of the sextet to his publisher. While undoubtedly expert, the overall experience isn’t entirely satisfactory; too often the gap between top and bottom registers with the piano gallantly filling in seems artificial by comparison with the textural richness of the original. The Greenwich Trio do a splendid job especially in the first movement’s heroic development and the delicate first section of the Scherzo where Kirchner’s arrangement is entirely convincing. Yoko Misumi’s piano playing is superb and both string players provide sweetly focused tone, notably in the elusive Adagio.

Brahms’s Second Piano Trio, completed in 1882, a year after the Second Piano Concerto, has enormous self-confidence and at times a boldly orchestral approach to sonority. The Greenwich Trio is more than equal to the work’s demands, balancing the heroic assertiveness of the opening Allegro with the passion and intensity of the variation slow movement. Their performance of the Scherzomanages to be both detailed and captivatingly virtuosic, and the Finale has an intoxicating, celebratory quality without becoming hectoring.

The ambience of the recorded sound could have been a little more generous, but overall these fine performances deserve repeated listening.

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Jan Smaczny