Schumann: Piano Trios

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Piano Trios, Vol. 1: No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63; No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110
PERFORMER: Benvenue Fortepiano Trio: Eric Zivian (fortepiano), Monica Huggett (violin), Tanya Tomkins (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2210

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To talk about ‘the fortepiano’ is as imprecise as talking about ‘the piano’, embracing everything from Cristofori’s fragile, delicate masterworks of 1709 to the young lions used by Chopin, Liszt and Schumann. No instrument has ever evolved so dramatically. The piano used here was built in 1841, fully half a century after Mozart’s death.

True, the frame is still of wood, but in many respects the sound feels closer to the early Bechstein grand than to Mozart’s Stein. Listeners still sceptical about Mozartian fortepianos need have no worries here.

The tone is certainly lighter than in modern pianos (more incisive, more translucent) but at no time in these splendidly robust, passionate and lyrical performances is there so much as a hint of pious antiquarianism. Not for a moment does the music seem emasculated in comparison with more traditional ‘modern’ performances.

The sound, whatever its decibel count, is well up to the rhapsodic emotionalism and dramatic thrust that this music so vibrantly exudes. Mercifully the players, despite their corporate title, are emphatically musicians first and historians second, though their scholarship and authority are beyond reproach.

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No allowances need be made for anything. However ‘authentically’ presented, great music will always transcend its own and any other period. That it does it so richly here is due in strong part to the fact that these are not only born but practised conversationalists. They give us nothing but Schumann in all his abundant spiritual honesty. Jeremy Siepmann