Songs Without Words: I Giocatori Piano Trio

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COMPOSERS: Clara Schumann,Mendelssohn,Robert Schumann
LABELS: Phaedra
ALBUM TITLE: Songs Without Words
WORKS: Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49; Clara Schumann: Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17 (1846); Robert Schumann: Phantasiestücke, Op. 88
PERFORMER: I Giocatori Piano Trio
CATALOGUE NO: PH 292034

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One might not be sure why a recording of two piano trios and some Phantasiestücke should be entitled ‘Songs without Words’ – but under this useful umbrella the I Giocatori Piano Trio has assembled a gorgeous programme of Mendelssohn and his friends Robert and Clara Schumann. While the Mendelssohn D minor remains one of the best loved works in the repertoire, the other pieces are relatively unusual – and the standout is Clara’s.

She wrote little music after her marriage to Robert; most pieces that survive were written in her teens. The Trio, though, is a mature work, from 1846, and its quality is exceedingly good. Its four movements are in a conventional enough structure, but her personal voice – closer to Chopin in poised lyrical vein, in some ways, than to Schumann’s obsession and turbulence – is distinctive and absorbing. Her husband’s four Phantasiestücke for trio are also relatively rare; while not necessarily his finest efforts, they are richly expressive and full of ideas.

The I Giocatori Trio is maybe surprisingly named too – it’s Italian for ‘The Players’, but they are not Italian at all. Hendrik and Ludo Ide (respectively violin and cello) and the pianist Hans Ryckelynck offer strong, sympathetic music-making throughout. High points include Ryckelnynck’s apparently effortless sparkle and clarity in the whirling Mendelssohn and the heartfelt intensity of expression that the whole group brings to the C Schumann. A few little quibbles over very occasional moments of insecurity, and a balance in which the violin is sometimes briefly swamped, but on the whole this is an enjoyable and timely release.

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Jessica Duchen