Feininger Trio

Brahms, Zemlinsky: Piano Trios

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Brahms, Zemlinsky: Piano Trios Review

by James Manheim

Not so long ago, listeners tended to divide the music of the late 19th century into a dichotomy of Brahms and the progressives, but this has fallen by the wayside as the influence of Brahms on the progressive side, most clearly on Schoenberg, has become abundantly clear. With this in mind, the Feininger Trio's new cycle of Brahms piano trio releases is especially welcome. Each trio will be paired with one by a figure from the generation after Brahms, here Alexander von Zemlinsky (the others will feature Ernst Krenek and Erich Korngold). Zemlinsky shows the weaknesses of the Brahms/progressive distinction; early in his career, he tried to be the perfect Brahmsian, but there are hints of the murky chromaticism that would come along soon in his music and take him to the edges of tonality, although never beyond. Listen to the Andante slow movement, which catches unusually vividly the moment where a new voice begins to develop in a young composer's music. The outer movements of Zemlinsky's trio show a mastery of Brahms' melodic idiom, if not of his contrapuntal genius. As for the Brahms Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, there is, of course, no shortage of recordings, but the Feininger Trio offers an unusually strong performance. This work is something like the String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95, of Beethoven: a startlingly compact structure in which it is difficult for performers to catch small details of deep structural significance. In the clean, beautifully balanced readings here, this is not an issue, and the performance is one of considerable intensity. Idiomatic sound from the Kammermusiksaal at the Philharmonie in Berlin is another attraction in this major chamber music release.

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