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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Some Robust Brahms

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8 (1854, revised 1889) [36:34]

Piano Trio No. 2 in C, Op. 87 (1882) [28:46]

Bonus DVD contains the Scherzo from Op. 8

Storioni Trio

Bart van de Roer, piano

Wouter Vossen, violin

Mark Vossen, ‘cello

Recorded December 2007 and April 2008 in the Concertboerjdenj Valthemond, the Netherlands.


It seems as though Brahms had a knack for getting things right the first time. Regardless of the genre, whether it be the symphonies, serenades, violin sonatas or string sextets (to name a few), Brahms manages to be at his most original and expressive in his first attempts. Such is certainly the case with his first piano trio, which although it was substantially revised decades after its original composition, still comes through as a masterpiece of melodic contour, harmonic complexity and form.

First published in 1854, the B major trio is reminiscent of Beethoven’s monumental Archduke in its size and scope. The fifteen-plus minute opening movement contains one of Brahms most sweeping and gorgeous melodies; a tune that is worked through masterfully and completely during the course of the movement. The lively scherzo is a fittingly uplifting contrast to the autumnal melancholy of the first movement. Very few moments in music can match the serenity of the Adagio, and the work is rounded out by a lively and virtuosic ending.

The Storionis approach this music symphonically, painting with wide brushes and in bold colors. They achieve a meaty and robust sound that although at times can be quite thrillingly large, is never overpowering. They play with a rich, warm tone that works particularly well with the deeply sonorous writing of the first movement. They are also quite able to lighten up, as evidenced by the rollicking tempi of the Scherzo and final Allegro.

Although considered by many to be one of Brahms’ finest pieces of chamber music, the Second trio, composed decades after the first, seems more academic to these ears. Indeed there are the grand melodies, the elegant counterpoint and the signature play between the inner voices, but with the exception of the lovely second movement, this trio lacks the warmth and reflective nature of the first.

Again we get an outstanding performance from the Storionis, big bold phrases and superb ensemble. One does notice however the occasional audible sniff and snort from the players, a habit that many instrumentalists insist is necessary for musicality and ensemble, but in reality is an annoying bit of snooty showmanship best left in the practice studio.

Pentatone’s SACD sound is magnificent. There are however a couple of problems, one small and one large. First there’s a glaring misprint on page two of the booklet that errantly identifies Op. 87 as Trio number three. Secondly, the bonus DVD is in PAL format, rendering it useless outside of Europe, a rather inexcusable oversight.