Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63; Fantasiestücke, Op. 88; Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80
Kungsbacka Piano Trio
BIS BIS-2437 76:19 mins
Schumann’s earliest music for piano trio, a set of four relatively straightforward Fantasy Pieces, was composed in the same year as his famous Piano Quintet. His first ‘official’ trio, Op. 63, is a much darker piece and the turbulence of its opening movement is broken only by an extraordinary moment of stasis which has the violinist and cellist producing an unearthly sound by bowing near the bridge of their instrument, while the piano accompanies with shimmering chords played with soft pedal right at the top of the keyboard. The whole passage is marked ppp and it’s very well handled here by the Kungsbacka Trio, lending it the effect of music holding its breath.
The F major Trio Op. 80, as Schumann himself said, makes a ‘friendlier’ impression. Its jewels are the two inner movements – a quietly ecstatic slow movement and a gently syncopated intermezzo in the minor. It’s the slow movement that emphasises a problem in the recorded balance that’s naggingly there throughout these recordings. The sound itself is very natural and the piano is captured with admirable warmth, but the strings, and especially the violin, are just a shade too distant. The violin melody in that rapturous slow movement, for instance, sounds on the cool side and it’s hard not to feel that a touch more presence would have allowed the music greater expressive intensity. Other ears may adjust to the sound spectrum more easily, but to me it remained a small blemish on these fine performances.