Brahms: The Piano Trios

Emanuel Ax / Leonidas Kavakos / Yo-Yo Ma

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Brahms: The Piano Trios Review

by James Manheim

You may rightly be suspicious of all-star chamber groups: for each one that clicks, four seem put together for purely commercial purposes. But the piano trio on this Sony release, beautifully recorded at what is arguably the premiere American venue acoustically, Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts, does not even really fall under that classification, even though all three members are certainly stars. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax are collaborators of long standing, and the interplay between the two here is consistently profound, with Ma's warmth setting off Ax's agile skittering. Too, the trios are made for Yo-Yo Ma, with the contrapuntal intricacy of the music giving the cello lots to do, and in particular giving him a chance to display his wondrous melodic gift. Sample the cello material of the Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8. The early work is played here in its 1890 revision, which Brahms altered in many essential ways while leaving the opening intact, and you may wish to own this double album for this moment alone. The opening movement of the Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87, is a masterpiece of crisp, confident playing all around, and really the music here ranges from consistent to exceptional, and never leaves any of the performers in his own world. Highly recommended.

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