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R Schumann: Complete Piano Trios etc

Catherine Montier (violin), Christophe Gaugué (piano); Trio Wanderer (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

R Schumann
Piano Quartet; Piano Quintet; Piano Trios Nos 1-3; Fantasiestücke in A minor for Piano Trio, Op. 88
Catherine Montier (violin), Christophe Gaugué (piano); Trio Wanderer
Harmonia Mundi HMM902344.46   149:22 mins (3 discs)

If this had been a single disc, featuring just the Piano Quintet and Quartet, it would have been a safe four stars. The playing has a delightful combination of zest and refinement, and love for the music’s poetry and delight in its unique inventiveness emanates from just about every phrase. But it’s the piano trios that really need the strongest advocacy by some margin, and here, I’m afraid, the admiration on my part is significantly cooler.

Trio Wanderer is a superb ensemble, and its recordings always seem to overcome effortlessly the balance problems inherent in the medium. The sound is beautiful, the grasp of the shape of each piece as a whole is lively and secure, and there’s certainly no lack of feeling. But the quirky, quixotic element in Schumann, the delight in lateral side-steps, the sheer demonic quality that takes possession of it in a sympathetic performance – I didn’t really get any of that. Passages like the eerie sul ponticello (bowed near to the bridge) passage in the first movement of Trio No. 1, or the troll-like beer garden antics in the finale of No. 3, are just too, well, tasteful. As for the exquisitely poised emotional ambiguity that’s so typical of Schumann, smiling one moment, on the edge of heartbreak the next (the slow movement of No. 2 is a prime example), that is also in surprisingly short supply.

It made me go back and question the Quintet and Quartet: they’re very enjoyable, but are they really Schumann, with all his captivating complexities? For me the answer is, simply, no.

Stephen Johnson