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BRAHMS PIANO TRIOS - VOLUME ONE
Gould Piano Trio

 

Gould Piano Trio

Brahms
Piano Trio No 1 in B major, Op 8

Brahms
Piano Trio No 2 in C major, Op 87

The first volume in the Gould Piano Trio's series of the complete Piano Trios by Johannes Brahms.

The Gould Trio is one of the most acclaimed young chamber ensembles to emerge from the UK in recent years and have toured many of the great international concert halls and festivals.

 

1. Piano Trio No 1 (i) Allegro con brio
Brahms, Johannes

2. Piano Trio No 1 (ii) Scherzo Allegro Molto
Brahms, Johannes

3. Piano Trio No 1 (iii) Adagio
Brahms, Johannes

4. Piano Trio No 1 (iv) Allegro
Brahms, Johannes

5. Piano Trio No 2 (i) Allegro
Brahms, Johannes

6. Piano Trio No 2 (ii) Andante con moto
Brahms, Johannes

7. Piano Trio No 2 (iii) Scherzo Presto
Brahms, Johannes

8. Piano Trio No 2 (iv) Finale. Allegro giocoso
Brahms, Johannes






Brahms Piano Trios - Volume One

Of all the great composers, Brahms is probably the one we know least about. A passionately private man, he left few clues to the workings of his musical mind - unlike, say, Beethoven, there are no sketch books showing how his musical ideas evolved, just the final finished products. Anything that did not meet his exacting standards was destroyed; here is a composer who destroyed more string quartets and symphonies than he left behind. There is just a single exception, and that is the B major Piano Trio, written in 1853-4, at the height of his worship of Schumann when Brahms was twenty-one, and then revised in 1889, just before he started to withdraw into a semi-retirement from composing. By the time of the later version, the old version had a wide currency and was a popular piece. The revised version is undoubtedly finer, combining that youthful fire with the experience that the intervening years had brought him, and it is this version that is recorded here.

The opening retains its noble, sweeping idea from the original, a long singing melody, full of potential and implications, the unusual choice of key adding a warm glow. This immediately announces the scale of the piece as something equal to, say, Schubert?s final piano sonatas. After working this material to a focal point, Brahms then writes a contrasting idea. In the first version of the piece, the continuity breaks down, with a rather four-square idea, but in the revised version the continuity is such that the new theme - still retaining its own identity - grows naturally and seamlessly out of the first idea. The next section, after the themes have been stated is very different between the two versions, the first including an amazing if rather strenuous fugal passage, while the second has a density that Brahms found in old age. The piano figuration here is also far removed from the virtuoso of his youth, with clarity of texture of paramount importance. The restatement of all the material after this has a complete sense of maturity in the final version, a fusion of the two ideas and at the end, a sense of stasis, of recollection and of summing up. Listeners who know the late collections of piano pieces will recognise the fingerprints of the composer at his best here.

In all, Brahms pruned the first movement from 494 bars to 290, all in the interests of concision. The Scherzo has no such changes: mere details are changed along the way and a new coda is added, more successful and effective in preparing a slowing down of pace before the slow movement than the original, with its Mendelssohnian pizzicato version of the main theme. Listening to his Op 4 Scherzo for piano, we can sense how the youthful Brahms found such music more straight-forward than in old age, although in the overall context of this work, the Scherzo does not sound out of place. In later life, Brahms generally preferred to compose intermezzo type movements instead of scherzos - for example, only the last of the four symphonies has a Scherzo, and that of a more "symphonic" definition. The slow movement is again quite different in the two versions, the opening chorale-like idea is allowed to expand in a way that Brahms restricts in the later version and the faster section, which provided contrast, is replaced by a passionate, rather sad theme, first given to the cello. Brahms once told his pupil Jenner that a long Adagio was "the most difficult" to sustain, hence, maybe, his original solution. The mood of the revised is much more restrained and where, in the original, the audience had to be content with a brief reminiscence of the opening theme, Brahms provides a fuller restatement, with musing improvisatory figures for the piano when the strings give out their answering phrase. A harmonic shift provides tension in this closing section and, though resolved quickly, the after-effects can be felt at the start of the last movement, the only serious attempt to dislodge the key of B - major or minor - in the whole of the work. The shadowy figures eventually give way to a carefree contrasting idea, which was an addition in the revision. Clara Schumann had not been uncritical of the first version but the theme that this replaced was special to her. In Schumann's music there is an element of quotation which appealed to the young Brahms, and the theme originally at this point was a direct quotation from Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte. The symbolic significance of this quotation would not have been lost on Clara, at a time when her husband was desperately ill and it was the only part of the revision she disliked, telling Brahms that the new idea was "repellent." The restatement is varied, but structurally similar to the opening of the movement and the coda, based on the first theme, dispels any lingering doubts. Again a swathe of material was removed in this movement: almost two hundred bars are cut.

Brahms said of his new version of the piece, "I did not provide it with a wig, but merely combed and arranged its hair a little." The opportunity had come to revise the Trio as a result of a new publisher taking over his works and offering a reprint of any revisions of slight weaknesses in the early works. He must have been surprised by the extent of Brahms? touching up of this Trio and yet the miracle is how the old thematic material sits side by side with a new leaner structure, without a hint of inconsistency. Still Brahms could not make up his mind, when he finally got around to sending the publisher his revised Trio. "I must state that the old one is bad, but do not maintain that they new one is good!" That the new version speaks so directly to audiences, with none of the complexity of the older work is what has secured its place in the repertory.

The C major Trio was finished in 1882, twenty-eight years after the B major though the opening Allegro was composed in 1880. Both Summers were spent in Ischl, a spot which seems to have opened the floodgates of inspiration for Brahms (the last three movements were written in the space of a single month). The most withdrawn of his Symphonies, the Third, dates from just after this time, and its reflective mood is predicted here in this Trio. The piano's had developed enormously during the middle of the nineteenth century and in chamber works where it is partnered by strings, its power had sometimes proved quite a tour de force for the strings; Brahms on the other hand provides a most effective balance between the strings and piano with the sort of writing which was to distinguish itself again the Double Concerto (here pitted against the orchestra) written at the end of the same decade.

The rich flow and invention of the opening movement is the equal of the finest of the Classical period. one of its especial beauties is the heart of the movement where the opening theme takes on a lyrical guise, which returns in the lively coda. The slow movement is a set of five variations on a wistful folk-like melody. An important motif source is the syncopation which runs throughout the theme, deliberately holding back the inherent liquidity until the final variation.

The Scherzo is a threatening affair, with diminished sevenths running though the harmonic fabric of the movement, a harsh contrast to the open diatonicism of the central section. The Finale is, like the first movement, in a tightly constructed sonata form. Brahms is in assertive mood and his pride in the works is fully evident in every small detail.

Copyright: Mike George