Brahms: Piano Trios

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Quartz
WORKS: Piano Trios Nos 1-3; Piano Trio in B, Op. 8 (original version); Piano Trio in A, Op. Posth; Horn Trio, Op. 40 etc
PERFORMER: Gould Piano Trio; Robert Plane (clarinet), David Pyatt (horn)


You don’t need the pictures front and back of this set to tell you that the three excellent musicians of the Gould Trio get on very nicely with each other. It’s perfectly clear from the playing.

I would also guess that they had looked hard at each one of these trios: not just the familiar five, but the original version of the B major Trio too, and even the ‘Probably Brahms’ A major, composed sometime in the 1850s; when you hear it played with such conviction it’s hard to believe anyone else could have created it.

The comprehensiveness of the set is one clear advantage, but even if these discs were issued separately they would still come with strong recommendations. All right, the late Clarinet Trio doesn’t have the wonderful autumnal bloom of Thea King and the Gabrieli Quartet on Hyperion, but the lightening of texture and the expressive elegance of the long lines are very refreshing.

What’s remarkable about these interpretations is how un-heavy they are. There’s plenty of body to the sound, but the agility, fluency and delicacy often bring the music closer to Brahms’s archetypically Romantic mentor Schumann – it’s worth remembering that much of this music was wholly or partly conceived when Brahms was very much in Schumann’s shadow.


But that doesn’t mean sacrificing any of Brahms’s very personal intellectual strength: formally these are strong performances too. Fine recordings too, which make you feel that you’re in the room with the players, close enough to feel almost part of the performance. Stephen Johnson