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Brahms: The Piano Trios
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Brahms: The Piano Trios
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World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his longtime collaborator, pianist Emanuel Ax, are joined by violinist Leonidas Kavakos in their first recording together of all three of the piano trios of Johannes Brahms. Ma and Ax have built together a distinguished catalogue of Brahms recordings, but this is their first recording of the Piano Trios and their first collaboration with Kavakos.
Of the three Brahms Piano Trios - Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8; Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87; and Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 101 the Second and Third Trios were written and first performed in quick succession (1882 and 1883), both examples of Brahms at his creative zenith. The same can be said of the First Trio: originally completed when he was twenty, in 1854, and premiered the following year, Brahms thoroughly rethought and revised it in a new version premiered early in 1890. That more elegant and concentrated version of a youthful work has become the standard for the First Trio, and it is the version performed on the recording by Ma, Ax and Kavakos.
All three performers have been acclaimed for their interpretations of Brahms, as soloists and as colleagues. Between them, Ma and Ax have shared four Grammy Awards for their recordings of Brahms's chamber music. With Kavakos, they first performed all three Brahms Piano Trios together on one program at the Tanglewood Festival in 2015. They will repeat the program in US concerts during the 2017-18 season
Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Opus 87
2 Andante con moto
3 Scherzo: Presto
4 Finale: Allegro giocoso
Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Opus 101
1 Allegro energico
2 Presto non assai
3 Andante grazioso
4 Allegro molto
Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Opus 8
5 Allegro con brio
6 Scherzo: Allegro molto
8 Finale: Allegro
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This isn't a mere difference of opinion. Frankly, I'm shocked at the assuredness of the negativism of the lead review for this release. I'm writing my initial hopes that others will not be swayed away from these wonderful, warm, passionate performances, as I was initially by Ms. Adler.
I had the opportunity of hearing this truly extraordinary trio of musicians perform the Brahms Trio No. 1 this past summer in Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. I was awestruck at the combined power and intimacy of the performance. Frankly, it was musically thrilling - and not at all what I expected from three "stars". The three musician were genuinely listening and responding to each other, and the trio was ravishing. I hesitated buying this recording because I feared sullying my memory of the concert - but fear not - Ms. Adler is wrong. Wrong in her assessment of the performance (in that she ignores it) and wrong in her overly-harsh assessment of the recording.
Ask yourself if you would ignore the Rostropovich/Serkin recording of the Brahms Cello Sonatas on DG due to the flat recording. If you answered "yes", well - your loss. The same is true of this recording of the Brahms Trios.
No one will confuse this recording with the rich ambiance that Hyperion has provided for the Florestan Trio (the recording of reference if you, like Ms. Adler place sound quality first and foremost in your decision) it is quite good, especially when it is heard through a good pair of cans. The sound stage is a bit flat but so is are my sentimental favorites - Rubinstein/Szering/Fournier. I had no problem whatsoever identifying the three musicians as Ms. Adler claims. True, the depth of the recording doesn't match the beautiful tone that Decca provided to Kavakos more recently in his recording the the Brahms Violin Sonatas with Yaja Wang (another truly wonderful recording), it never distracts from the playing of the musicians themselves. And I actually prefer this more natural ambiance to the close-miked production that Columbia/Sony provided Stern/Rose/Istomin. And this recording features three "stars" not a trio, who somehow, manage to integrate themselves into sounding like a bona-fide trio.
And that is where this recording shines. Wheras Stern/Rose/Istomin always sound like Stern/Rose/Istomin (or should I say, STERN/Rose/Istomin) Ma/Ax/Kavakos sound like a silk smooth ensemble. Pun intended. And why not? Ma and Ax have an established artistry and true repartee as a duo. And Kavakos fits in with them perfectly, just perfectly.
Why do we always seek perfection from musicians playing music better written than it can ever be played? Why have we - in this age of musical abundance - seemingly lost the ability to lose ourselves in the moment, to close our eyes and hear through the recording to the heart of the performance? These are wonderful performances. They will not, and should not, replace other performances in your library. I love Starker, Suk, Katchen and the Florestan Trios recordings. But they will sit alongside side of them on the shelf as worthy adjuncts.
Yo Yo Ma has described himself as a human being first, a musician second, and a cellist third. And I would argue that it is humanity - along with his musicianship - that is always communicated in his performances. Further, I would suggest, that such humanity is contagious among the musicians he plays with. Whether in the Silk Road Ensemble, the Goat Rodeo Sessions, or in these trios, written by the composer of the most humanistic Requiem of them all.
I urge you to consider these beautiful, virtuosic performances. Adding Kavakos to the Ax/Ma mix was a brilliant idea. I don't think you'll be disappointed.