Brahms, Schumann, Frühling: Trios / Isserlis, Collins, Hough

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Attractive chamber music performed in a warmly conversational style with a little-known romantic rarity thrown in.

Listening to a good chamber music performance should be like eavesdropping on a mutually sympathetic conversation. Here, that conversation is between kindred spirits for whom musical phrasing and mellifluous tone production are evident priorities. Even when playing quietly, Stephen Hough exhibits an acute sense of tonal colour. Try from, say, 2'23'' into Brahms's finale, where he posits the main idea and his colleagues respond with like minds. Hough's transcription of Schumann's 'Traumerei' might, at first glance, seem like a somewhat old-fashioned appendage to an otherwise enterprising programme. And yet the musical result - where Michael Collins holds the main melody line until near the end of the piece, when Steven Isserlis takes over just for a couple of bars - is utterly captivating.

If the Brahms is 'the fruit of profound maturity' (to quote Isserlis's often entertaining booklet-note), Schumann's four Marchenerzahlungen - performed here with a cello in place of the original viola - combine forcefulness with a certain fragility. For example, the Lebhaft und sehr markiert second movement opens emphatically, then skips off in heady abandon before settling to a mood where the two elements - dark resolution and aerial fantasy - combine. As with so much late Schumann, Marchenerzahlungen seems at pains to make its point without knowing quite why. Therein lies its pathos and peculiar fascination.

The third major component in this well-planned romantic programme is by Lvov-born Carl Fruhling (1868-1937), a gifted composer who, according to Isserlis, partnered celebrated artists of the day and died in poverty. Many of Fruhling's works still await discovery (literally, as no one knows their precise whereabouts) but the Trio recorded here is full of lovely things. Yes, it is eclectic - Collins and Isserlis cite Wagner as an influence, whereas Hough prefers Grieg - but anyone with an ear for Chausson, Korngold, Godowsky or Kreisler is bound to love it. Again, I would quote the finale as an ideal sampling point, especially 5'25'' where Isserlis bows a wistful motive and Hough responds with music that momentarily edges towards Liszt's 'Vallee d'Obermann'.

A highly imaginative programme, one that is characterized above all by fine balancing - musically, interpretatively and technically.

-- Rob Cowan, Gramophone [1/2000]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: RCA63504

  • UPC: 090266350421

  • Label: RCA

  • Composer: Carl Frühling, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann

  • Performer: Michael Collins, Stephen Hough, Steven Isserlis


  1. Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 114

    Composer: Johannes Brahms

    Performer: Michael Collins (Clarinet), Stephen Hough (Piano), Steven Isserlis (Cello)

  2. Märchenerzählungen for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op. 132

    Composer: Robert Schumann

    Performer: Michael Collins (Clarinet), Stephen Hough (Piano), Steven Isserlis (Cello)

  3. Kinderszenen, Op. 15: no 7, Träumerei

    Composer: Robert Schumann

    Performer: Michael Collins (Clarinet), Stephen Hough (Piano), Steven Isserlis (Cello)

  4. Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 40

    Composer: Carl Frühling

    Performer: Michael Collins (Clarinet), Stephen Hough (Piano), Steven Isserlis (Cello)