WORKS: Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49; Schubert: Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat, Op. 100
PERFORMER: Smetana Trio
CATALOGUE NO: SU 4008-2
Mendelssohn (‘too fond of the dead’ in Berlioz’s opinion) was a Janus-faced figure, both steeped in the past and anticipating the future. You can play (feel, envisage) his music as forward from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven – an essentially Classical conception – or backwards from Brahms – full-bodied, ‘symphonic’ and fervently Romantic.
In this outstandingly convincing release, the Smetana Trio incline, or so it seems to me, to the Brahmsian view, like the still more dramatic Vienna Piano Trio. Ardent, emotionally vibrant, spiritually probing and rhythmically vital, they combine great polyphonic clarity with an almost orchestral breadth and depth of sound, the strings moving seamlessly from the soloistic to the sonorously blended.
The pianist combines thrilling virtuosity with an uncommon awareness that most of Mendelssohn’s many notes are essentially auxiliary, providing in effect a kind of harmonic vibrato. Nowhere do we sense an undercover concerto.
Apart from a very few instances of rather four-square phrasing in the first movement, I found this a well-nigh ideal performance, equalled by relatively few and surpassed only by Cortot-Thibaud-Casals in 1927, who give us neither Brahmsian nor Mozartian but unadulterated Mendelssohn, in all his exhilarating individuality, mastery and purity.
The Schubert is in a similar if not such an exclusive class (the recorded opposition being quite formidable). In its refinement, balance and expressive immediacy it resembles in many ways the Florestan Trio’s near-impeccable account, but surpasses even that in the consistency of its rhythmic subtlety. Jeremy Siepmann