Daniel Barenboim / Kyril Zlotnikov / Nikolaj Znaider

Mozart: Piano Trios

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Jumping on the Mozart anniversary bandwagon, Daniel Barenboim joins with younger musicians Nikolaj Znaider and Kyril Zlotnikov for a lively and charmingly expressive, but not quite ideal, performance of Mozart's piano trios. All three give the music animation and just enough energy to keep the fast movements moving, even dancing, and grounded, not letting them become too airy or elegantly graceful, nor letting them be too heavy for their period. Their slow movements are exercises in control as they maintain evenness in their dynamics. The middle movements of K. 496 and K. 548 are especially attractive in the way the emotion is handled without melodrama.

The three may have a great sympathy for the music and appreciation for each other's talent, but there is some competition between Znaider and Barenboim for dominance in these trios. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the ensemble work of all three players: all are in tune and together, and usually in agreement in their phrasing (there is one ugly sounding moment at the end the Trio in G major, K. 496, right before the recap). But even when both the piano and violin share the main line of music there is often a feeling of separation, a non-blending of instruments. When they don't share the melody, it is hard to tell just who does have the more important part. This is particularly true in the Trios K. 496 and K. 502, on the first disc. Tempo also seems to be a factor, with the faster movements having more cohesion than others. Another factor is Znaider's tone. There is balance in the crisp and clear sound of the recording, but the piano and cello have more depth to their tone than Znaider's violin. In the first movement of the Trio in C major, K. 548, the violin uses the lower strings, where Znaider has a fuller tone, which helps blend the parts together more. Trios where the cello has a larger role also hang together better. Although there are still moments when Znaider is stronger than he needs to be, both he and Barenboim let Zlotnikov take the spotlight when he can in the later trios, on the second disc. Unfortunately the closeness of the recording is inconsistent, so that in the C major trio, K. 548, Zlotnikov's solos seem further away than they should be.

The Kegelstatt Trio, K. 498, which is also included on disc 1, is flowingly cohesive in comparison with the other trios. Naturally, it helps that the clarinet and viola are much closer in register than the violin and cello are. It also helps that Matthias Glander, clarinet, and Felix Schwartz, viola, are both veteran members and principals of the Staatskapelle Berlin. They, and Barenboim, have a more instinctive approach to ensemble playing. It makes for music that is more smoothly, organically shaped, with energy and animation that isn't forced. It's a nice, if not entirely successful, effort by Barenboim mentor Znaider and Zlotnikov, while returning to the realm of chamber music for the opportunity to put all of Mozart's trios in one package.

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