Schumann: Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor; Phantasiestücke, Op. 88,

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor; Phantasiestücke, Op. 88,
PERFORMER: Trio Parnassus
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 303 0921-2
The piano trio is a classic medium, and yet it’s problematic. As pianos and piano writing became more powerful in the 19th century, changes to string instruments didn’t quite keep pace, and piano trios often sound like two players struggling against the odds.

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This label prides itself on natural acoustics, without any sort of modification with reverberation, filters or limiters. So far so good, but then it’s up to the performers. Trio Parnassus really lacks the expressive projection to put this music over. The lovely, melancholy first piece of Op. 88 immediately strikes one as pale and lacking rhythmic depth, and in the second, the piano sounds as if it’s pushed back merely so that it doesn’t drown the others. The violin and cello solos in the third piece lack commitment.

Schumann marked the powerful first movement of his D minor Trio ‘with energy’, but there’s not enough of it here. And surely the Parnassus have taken the ‘not too fast’ a bit too literally in the lively second movement, so that it sounds stodgy compared with the Florestan Trio’s sense of swing. In the slow movement the violinist sounds feeble in his opening solo, so it’s hardly surprising that the pianist holds back in his lead-in to the return of the opening idea.

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The makeweight is Rudolph Palme’s arrangement of piano duet pieces inspired by oriental tales by Friedrich Rückert – minor domestic music and pleasant enough. Adrian Jack