Schumann: Piano Trios Nos 1-3

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WORKS: Piano Trios Nos 1-3; Fantasiestücke, Op. 88; Six Pieces in Canon Form, Op. 56 (arr. Kirchner)
PERFORMER: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Sometimes you really want a performance to work. You admire the players, the musicianship is keenly intelligent, and it’s repertoire you ache to hear well-served on record. And here there are so many praiseworthy things. The way these musicians approach Schumann’s long spans of rhythmically repetitive writing shows such understanding and sensitivity that you forget that there was ever a problem to be solved. 
There are some very memorable touches here, like the ghostly string tone at the heart of the first movement of the First Trio. In the end, though, there’s something curiously chilly about the whole experience. Animated though these performances are, they rarely seem touched with fire. And while there’s plenty of refinement and delicacy in the playing, there’s also something disappointingly straightforward about the expression. Schumann is full of paradoxes. That doesn’t seem to pose any problems for Andsnes and the two Tetzlaffs intellectually, but emotionally that sense of a mind poised between exquisite pleasure and intense pain is far removed. 
To get a rounded sense of what’s missing here, go to the Beaux Arts for the three numbered trios, or better still for Nos 1 and 2 the Florestanon Hyperion – all the intelligence of Andsnes and his team and greater riches of expression. Stephen Johnson