Rostropovich, Gilels, Kogan

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COMPOSERS: Fauré; Haydn; Beethoven; Schumann
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Fauré; Haydn; Beethoven; Schumann
WORKS: Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15; plus Piano Trios by Haydn, Beethoven and Schumann
PERFORMER: Leonid Kogan (violin), Rudolf Barshai (viola), Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Emil Gilels (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 477 7476 ADD Reissue (1950-58)

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I feared that this trio would swamp these early Haydn trios with their high voltage virtuosity: HobXV:19 and 16 are tender stems, newly emerging from the Baroque trio sonata. In fact, the Moscow masters, recorded in 1950/1, engage the listener with a touching grace in the yearning G minor, and deliver a jubilant D major. Violinist Leonid Kogan was capable of a genuinely light touch, while cellist Rostropovich is admirably discreet and unaffected. The G minor trio performance also appears on the Melodiya release (same recording, but dated 1952) and not as successfully remastered, presumably from LP rather than tape sources. Unique to the Melodiya disc is a richly realised Mozart KV564 from 1953. Kogan is at his sweetest in the Theme and Variations, while Rostropovich’s impulsive spirit vivifies his solos. On DG, Beethoven’s early Trio (Wo038) has its rough moments, and one can begin to see how Rostropovich’s spontaneity did not accord with the austerity of his partners in this short-lived group. A dynamic Gilels is wonderfully clear on the earlier recordings, but those from 1956 and ’58 have not fared so well. The piano sound is distorted at moments of high volume and dense texture in the Archduke. The string playing is at times curiously tentative, particularly in a rather solemn Scherzo, and a somewhat damp Allegro. Their beautifully sustained Adagio is more affecting. They hit their stride with a magnificent Schumann, perfectly paced, with a fiery ardour, but an unfortunately murky bass (which the DG remastering has done little to clarify). This affects the 1958 Fauré Piano Quartet No. 1, too, which has a grand sweep but lacks a vital translucence. Helen Wallace