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Litolff Piano Trios

Leonore Piano Trio (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor; Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major; Serenade for Violin and Piano
Leonore Piano Trio
Hyperion CDA68305   70.00 mins

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Listening to this stimulating collection, it is hard to fathom how the restless and buccaneering Henry Charles Litolff, born in London in 1818 to Alsatian and Scottish parents, ever became just a ‘one-hit wonder’, known only for the prancing scherzo from his fourth Concerto symphonique. It is easy enough to spot echoes of his immediate forebears, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Beethoven particularly. But these two piano trios from 1850 (there were eventually three) equally display his own quirky personality. Surprises are sprung in form, modulations and textures. Litolff equally loves to keep the pianist busy, constantly tossing off elaborate figurations while violin and cello pursue long singing lines. Trio No. 1 is particularly gripping, with its structurally eccentric big Allegro, helter-skelter finale, and quick-fire changes in instrumental colour. Jeremy Nicholas in his programme note suggests these may be the finest 19th-century piano trios currently outside the standard repertoire, and I am not in the mood to argue.

The thematic material in No. 2 (a premiere recording) may be weaker, but Litolff’s fluency and confidence in his stylistic quirks are always winning. As is the glow, bounce and ensemble spirit of the Leonore Piano Trio, the most sympathetic of interpreters. Tim Horton deserves a special bouquet for elegantly dispatching Litolff’s torrents of notes, though Gemma Rosefield’s soulful cello and Benjamin Nabarro’s violin, so often a lark ascending, spread their own joy. Topped off with a disarming encore, a sweet Serenade, and captured in a warm, friendly acoustic, this is a delightful album.

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Geoff Brown