The Trio Testore was founded in 2000 by three internationally established concert artists, pianist Hyun-Jung Kim-Schweiker, Violinist Franziska Pietsch and Cellist Hans-Christian Schweiker. The name of the trio comes from the fact that Franziska Pietsch and Hans-Christian Schweiker both play instruments made by the well-known Milanese luthier family Testore (the violin by Carlo Antonio, 1751 and the cello by Carlo Giuseppe, 1711).
This new two disc set includes the original version of Brahms’ Piano Trio No.1 written in 1854. Given that in the final version, made in 1889, Brahms re-wrote almost everything except the Scherzo and the opening thematic groups of the other three movements, this version can reasonably be thought of as another completely different Piano Trio. Does this mean that Brahms actually wrote five Piano Trios? On the evidence so far available I think it best to assume that, including the new version of the First Piano Trio, Brahms actually wrote four.
The best known and most widely recorded version of the Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op.8 is that of the revised 1889 version. In this recording pianist Hyun-Jung Kim-Schweiker introduces lovely mellow sounds to which the cello and later the violin join, the violin adding more emotional clout to this Allegro con brio. There is some really incisive playing here, with fine dynamics as they work up to the dramatic moments, instinctively finding how to surprise one when the beautiful climaxes come, making the most of the youthful Brahms’ passion, albeit filtered through his later experienced ears.
The Scherzo. Allegro molto receives some lovely playing, full of momentum with fine textures from the strings. The Trio Testore finds much mystery in the opening of the adagio. As the movement progresses and settles, the violin and cello produce a lovely blend of tone. Again these players know how to bring out the dynamics and passion in this piece, with some lovely limpid piano sounds from Kim-Schweiker as the movement draws to a close. The unsettled allegro receives a tremendously volatile performance in playing of great ensemble, dynamics and passion and with a superb coda.
The Allegro of Brahms’ Piano Trio No.2 in C major, Op.87 (1880-1882) is given a pretty stormy opening before it calms. In between the stormy thrust of this movement, there are some lovely string textures in the quieter passages. The opening theme of the Andante con moto is beautifully done with a lovely breadth. As the five variations progress, the last stretched to form a coda, Kim-Schweiker makes the most of the opportunity for some lovely playing. The light and breezy Scherzo. Presto, with its lovely trio section, receives a fine performance here, perfectly balanced with spot on ensemble. In the confident Finale. Allegro giocoso Brahms seems to brush away all the stormy uncertainty and the music flows quickly forward, with again some gloriously done string textures before the joyful coda.
The rarely recorded original 1854 version of the Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op.8 lasts for around forty nine minutes against the revised version that lasts around thirty eight minutes. However, the length isn’t the only difference, as the only movement to remain in any way the same is the Scherzo. After revising this trio in 1889, Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann referring to the ‘wild’ character of this early version.
In the opening Allegro con brio it is strange to hear how immediately different the original version of this trio is, with the violin entering in a rather flamboyant manner. There is a somewhat awkward piano theme that stands out and the instruments are often allowed solo passages that make the work less homogenous. If anything this first movement is so sprawling that occasionally it tends to drag. No wonder that Brahms kept the Scherzo. Allegro molto as it is so full of rhythm and momentum.
The original Adagio is a less passionate, more fragmentary sounding movement with the strings quietly commenting on the piano theme. It does try occasionally to rise to a more passionate level but never quite seems to make it, falling back to end quietly.
The concluding Allegro opens with the same unsettled nature as the revised version and has much of the same passion, if less taut in structure. It receives some fine playing with much sensitivity in the quiet moments. The Trio Testore make a fine case for this version that, for all its faults, is a fascinating work to hear.
Brahms was in his full maturity when he wrote the Piano Trio No.3 in C minor, op.101 (1886). At less than half of the length of the original version of Op.8 this concise trio opens with a tremendously powerful allegro energico with a gloriously played second subject. The second movement may be marked presto non assai but it is nevertheless quiet and withdrawn with the strings muted throughout and pizzicato passages beautifully supporting the piano theme.
The strings open the andante grazioso before the piano enters alone in the same theme. Brahms for the most part keeps the instruments from playing together in this rhythmically alternating movement that allows the pianist to display some beautifully delicate playing. The violin and cello again blend wonderfully. The rhythm is pretty unpredictable in the restless allegro molto where the Trio Testore, with their wonderful dynamics, textures and ensemble are truly magnificent, bringing out all of Brahms’ turbulence.
Whilst reviewing this new release I referred back to a favourite recording by the Beaux Arts Piano Trio on Philips. In comparison to the Trio Testore, the Beaux Arts Trio sound restrained and classical in their approach. Their recording, whilst of the best quality for the time sounds slightly muted.
It is the Trio Testore that made me hear afresh the three main trios in performances where they play their hearts out. They have been given a sensationally good recording, so detailed and natural. With the Testores including a recording of the original version of Op.8 this new release is irresistible.