Trio Vivente

Fanny Hensel, Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trios

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The Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 11, of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was arguably the greatest work by Felix Mendelssohn's sister. As Klaus Jörg Schönmetzler points out in his excellent notes (in German, French, and English), with unsparing depictions of the obstacles both anti-Semitism and sexism placed in her way, the work was in many ways a response to Felix's own Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 66, written just months earlier. The structures of the tumultuous opening movements are particularly similar, and the dissimilarities after that point may be seen as conscious attempts to go in new directions; Fanny's unusual "Lied" third movement, for example, with its distinctive sweeping figures, is a less dramatic but more progressive idea than Felix's Beethovenian scherzo. Germany's all-female Trio Vivente, one might say, blows the top off both these works and reveals the tensions within. The album is a valuable counterweight to a century of genteel interpretations of Mendelssohn's chamber music from Britain, for many years the only place where it was frequently played. The news is especially good in the Fanny Mendelssohn trio, where the group's fast, almost violently expressive opening movement ought to be enough to win this still underestimated work a permanent place in the repertoire. Trio Vivente also links the two works along the lines Schönmetzler suggests, and they're backed by fine, spacious sound from the German label Raum Klang; the venue is the modern August Everding Saal in the city of Grünwald, a 300-seat hall quite appropriate in its ambiance for the Mendelssohns. The design is also strong, with some German-only quotes from both siblings; Fanny's reads, "To be sure, I don't know exactly what Goethe means by the demonic influence he has been talking about so much lately, but this much is clear: if it exists, you have exercised it upon me." This is a breakthrough release.

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