Schumann: Piano Trio No 2, Kinderszenen, Piano Quartet / Benvenue Fortepiano Trio

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SCHUMANN Piano Trio No. 2 in F, Op. 80. Kinderszenen , Op.15 1. Piano Quartet in E?, Op.47 2 Benvenue Fp Tr; 1 Eric Zivian (fp); 2 Adam LaMotte (va) AVIE 2272 (71:07)

In the second movement of the Piano Trio on this disc, violinist Monica Huggett does something remarkable for this modern age: She plays downward portamentos in her phrasing of the musical line. They are not as broadly accented as the portamentos one heard from Bronislaw Huberman, but they are a bit broader than those used by Emanuel Feuermann in the late 1930s and early ’40s. What this tells me is that Huggett, who prides herself on being a historically informed performer of classical music from two centuries (18th and 19th), is fully aware that portamento was used as an expressive device in this music, and that to eliminate it is incorrect. More to the point, the performance of the trio as a whole evinces a systemic approach to the music. One can also hear upward portamento in Huggett’s solo lines in the first movement of this trio. By leading the way stylistically, she encourages moments of rubato, sharp attacks and releases in the dramatic passages, and an overall feeling of involvement that is rare among many such groups nowadays.

Moreover, the trio’s choice of instruments also reflects an enlightened view of the music. No half-harpsichord-sounding fortepiano is involved here, but an instrument built by Franz Rausch in 1841. Huggett’s instrument is the oldest, being a violin of the Dutch Cuypers School c. 1770, while Tanya Tomkins’s cello was made by Joseph Panormo in London in 1811. Using instruments close in style to those used by Schumann makes an enormous difference. There is, in fact, very little difference in sound (though a less powerful sustain) between Eric Zivian’s fortepiano and a more modern instrument, and this added richness gives more body to the music. The incredible realism of the recorded sound (the microphones used are not identified, but the venue was Old St. Hilary’s Church in Tiburon, California) also assists greatly in both presence and in giving some natural “air” around the instruments.

Rather surprisingly, considering his superb attention to detail and his style which allows for several little rubato touches, I found Zivian’s interpretation of Kinderszenen somewhat less convincing. I’m not sure, in this case, if the fortepiano was recorded a bit too closely, lending a somewhat overloud aspect to certain movements, but in any case I didn’t feel that he captured the remarkable ambiance that one feels, for instance, in the performance by Clara Haskil. Listen, for example, to the famous “Träumerai”: tempo and phrasing are exactly right, but somehow the feeling is wrong—just a bit too “klunky.” (It could be that, in this case, the instrument’s lack of a larger frame and greater sustaining ability is to blame, rather than the player.)

Despite this slight disappointment, when they reach the Piano Quartet in E? (with guest violist LaMotte), they again play with that rare combination of elasticity and emotional involvement. Listening carefully, I think I know why the fortepiano sounds better in ensemble: The cello’s rich tone compensates somewhat for the slightly leaner, less sustained tone of the keyboard. But whatever the reason, there is no question but that both mood and structure never sound forced but, rather, “evolve” in the listening process. You almost feel privileged to be listening in on a performance this good. No matter when you play this disc, whether alone in the evening or with friends in the afternoon, you’ll be completely taken in and involved in the Benvenue Trio’s music-making. It is as if these musicians are not the ones communicating with you, but Robert Schumann himself.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: AV2272

  • UPC: 822252227222

  • Label: Avie

  • Composer: Robert Schumann

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Benvenue Fortepiano Trio