Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 49; Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 66; Variations concertantes for violoncello and piano, Op. 17

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 49; Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 66; Variations concertantes for violoncello and piano, Op. 17
PERFORMER: The Nash Ensemble: Marianne Thorsen (violin), Paul Watkins (cello), Ian Brown (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4011
With three such fine musicians as Marianne Thorsen, Paul Watkins and Ian Brown involved, the playing here is predictably impressive. In particular, the outer movements of the two Mendelssohn trios sound refreshingly less frenetic than they often do, and the comparatively relaxed tempos – the opening movement of the D minor Trio, in particular, well below the composer’s improbably fast metronome marking – lend the music’s more lyrical moments all the breadth they need, without sacrificing anything in momentum and intensity elsewhere. Ian Brown is unusually sparing in his use of pedal, too, allowing Mendelssohn’s textures to emerge with full clarity.

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Rather less of a success are the slow movements – surely too lingering in the case of the Op. 49 Trio, which really needs to flow more naturally; while in the Andante of its C minor companion-piece, Op. 66, some of the piano’s accompanimental passages are a touch heavy, with too much emphasis given to each note. The Variations concertantes for cello and piano – a minor piece tossed off for Mendelssohn’s amateur cellist brother Paul – are a welcome bonus, but the sound-quality of the disc as a whole is disappointing, with the piano’s upper register floating away into the distance.

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Among rival versions of the two trios it’s worth seeking out the recordings made in the 1980s by the Beaux Arts Trio (albeit with different cellists), which still sound very well.Misha Donat