COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8 (original version); Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60
PERFORMER: Trio Wanderer; Christophe Gaugué (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 902222
Pros and cons abound in resuscitating ‘original versions’ of well-known pieces. Brahms once unearthed and had published the first version of Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, only to find Clara Schumann so furious that she did not speak to him for several years afterwards. Here the Trio Wanderer gives Brahms a taste of his own medicine, presenting the original version of his Piano Trio No.1, an early work initially composed much under the influence of both Schumanns, but later revised and very considerably strengthened. The flaws stand out loud and clear – including a frightful fugato and a lilting, folksong-like episode that likewise bit the dust.
But vital reasons exist for exploring the piece: two crucial Lieder quotations that may tell us more than Brahms later wanted to. One is from Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, the same phrase that Robert Schumann used in his Fantasy in C major as a reference to Clara. The other is Schubert’s Am Meer, in which the poet sits with a weeping beloved and feels his soul poisoned upon kissing away her tears. The trio dates from 1854, the year of Schumann’s incarceration in mental hospital. Brahms later excised both of these elements.
The C minor Piano Quartet blazes out as a gloriously crafted, mature work in comparison, and the Trio Wanderer and Gaugé give both pieces straightforward, strong-spined, no-nonsense performances, though fuller tone and some expansion of emotional engagement at both extremities would perhaps have benefited the total result.