CPO 999 800
cpo 999 800

CD Reviews: Piano Trios Nos.2 and 3

Piano Trio No.2 op.112 and Piano Trio No.3 op.155

Trio Opus 8
CPO 999 800 2001 DDD 64:42

Arriving just a few months after CPO's first Trio CD (review), this second disc reinforces Trio Opus 8's achievement in producing such a definitive survey of Raff's entire piano trio output at the first attempt. This disc shares all the merits of its predecessor and together they should be regarded as essential buys for anyone interested in Raff's chamber music. Truly we are fortunate that these works made their debut in performances of such high quality.

Trio Opus 8 are on top form in the G major Second Trio and it is indeed such a winning work. As the less subtle of the two pieces, it is perhaps the harder to get wrong with its abundance of sweet melody and ample virtuoso fireworks. Nonetheless, there are myriad nuances to explore which serve to promote Raff's music from the divertingly enjoyable to masterful music proclaiming its author's genius.

In this performance, Raff's details are explored to telling effect. A couple of examples: the expressive use of pauses in the flow of the beautiful Schubertian main theme of the slow movement give it a pathos which is deeply expressive.

In contrast, the helter-skelter finale's peculiar piano passage, which could be a refugee from the Aida ballet music, is so skilfully integrated into the dazzling shower of notes that its presence seems proof of Raff's wit rather than confirmation of his eclecticism.

Listen to an audio extarct This excerpt, the start of the Trio No.3's third movement, shows the finesse of Michael Hauber's playing [1:38]

The Third Trio is altogether a more delicate work, wearing its heart not quite as emphatically on its sleeve as its predecessor. Whilst the contrast of the violin's anguish and the piano's solace in the first movement is undeniably dramatic, Raff was arguably intending something more subtle here and Trio Opus 8 are perhaps more earnest than called for.

That said, the scatty, nervous scherzo ("fidgety" is Matthias Wiegandt's apt description in his exemplary insert notes) is perfectly captured.

Listen to an audio extract This excerpt is the second half of the 3rd. Trio's second movement [1:32]

The variations third movement is another Raff gem, beginning with Hauber's calm statement of the theme on the piano and leading to a well judged emphatic climax by way of some sweet violin lines from Ekhard Fischer. The third Trio returns to the territory of the second in the finale and here all three players revel in Raff's Hungarian pyrotechnics - best displayed in the characteristic fughetto passage towards the close with its very Raffish blend of the academic and the exciting.

Trio Opus 8 seem less certain how to interpret the second of the two works on this CD and as a result their performance carries marginally less conviction, but this is a very minor quibble about a thoroughly recommendable issue.

Raffianers could scarcely have hoped for better recording premieres for these core works in Raff's chamber music catalogue. If the upcoming survey of the complete violin & piano music from CPO is of the same high standard, then we will be even more in the Osnabrück company's debt.

Mark Thomas

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