In 1832 Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) wrote to his sister Fanny that is what about time he wrote some ‘good trios’. He had already started but left unfinished a trio for piano, violin and viola, and started the D minor trio shortly after, completing it in 1839. Mendelssohn’s friend the composer-pianist Ferdinand Hiller advised him after the completion to make several revisions to make the work sound as up to date as possible – Hiller, was a pupil of Hummel was a keen supporter of Berlioz and Liszt. The result is a work of perfect proportions, with a brilliant piano part, skilful counterpoint and a wonderful blend of classical poise and romantic passion. Schumann reviewing the Leipzig premiere on 1840 commented that the trio was a masterpiece that would ‘bring joy to our children and grandchildren’. The 2nd trio is dedicated to the great German violinist and composer Louis Spohr.
In the early years of the twenty first century, many classical labels released couplings of both Mendelssohn's piano trios, and while nearly all of them were superb, perhaps the best of all was this 2007 recording by France's Trio Wanderer. The same group that had already turned in excellent recordings of Brahms, Shostakovich, and Saint-Saëns here turned in a disc that has all the hallmarks of its performance style – strength, stamina, and above all energy – and applied to pieces that call out for those qualities but all too rarely get them.
This recording is wonderful! Schiff in particular is clearly inspired, amused and transformed by the astounding young Mr. Mendelssohn. Try them yourself. If you don't smile and your pulse doesn't race a bit, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Chamber Music seems so right during the boisterous mechanics of the holidays and one sure respite from the garish noise of the external season can be found in works like the Mendelssohn Piano Trios.
Here Eugene Istomin, Leonard Rose, Isaac Stern perform Piano Trios 1 and 2 in a manner that bespeaks camaraderie of the performers as well as a complete respect for these luminous works. Some have called these works piano sonatas with obbligato and while for this listener that is an unfair judgment, Eugene Istomin plays the piano part with enough flair and thoughtful propulsion that he does at times sound the more important. But that is Mendelssohn's writing and not a self-aggrandizement of a pianist.
The overall sound is simply superb. These two trios are some of the loveliest ever written from that era and the gentlemen performing them offer sophisticated and informed interpretations. The recording is excellent, the music is rarefied! Highly recommended.
– Amazon.com [5-star] reviewer
Many of Jean-Yves Thibaudet's recent recordings – not only his pale Rachmaninov, but even his dimly characterized Debussy – have represented him as a technically fluent but interpretatively self-effacing pianist, one who prefers to skate across the music than take a position on what lies beneath the surface. One might have expected the polished veneer of Mendelssohn to encourage more of this faceless graciousness; but in the event, these turn out to be impressively firm, even tough-minded, performances. Not that they're brutal, as Katsaris's unyielding readings of the concertos are: whether in the fluid transition into the second theme of the first movement of the First Concerto, the supple shading of the cantilena in the following Andante or the artful weighting of the cadences in the Variations, Thibaudet offers urgency without sacrificing poise. Nor, for all his attention to the music's larger design, does he disdain the concertos' glitter, as Kalichstein does in his daringly dark and probing readings. Still, it's fair to say that Thibaudet's performances are more desperate than dapper, more thrilling than tender, more spiky than succulent. Note, for instance, how his slightly craggy articulation in the Second Concerto's Adagio keeps the music's sentiment at bay, or how his jabs at the left-hand octave interruptions (for example, at 1'15") inject a sense of threat to the normally placid Andante that introduces the Rondo capriccioso. Those who dip into Mendelssohn for his charm may find it all too stern – but those open to Thibaudet's tart perspective may well rank this among the most persuasive recordings that he has given us. Blomstedt and his orchestra are at one with the pianist and the engineers have captured them with power and immediacy. Jeremy Siepmann's notes only add to the pleasures of the disc. Warmly recommended.Peter J. Rabinowitz