The Feininger Trio Plays Brahms & Zemlinsky

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BRAHMS: Piano Trio Mo. 3 in C min. ZEMLINSKY: Piano Trio in D min. / Feininger Trio: Christoph Streuli, vln; David Riniker, cel; Adrian Oetiker, pno / Avi 8553489

This is a first of three planned recordings by the Feininger Trio in which they will contrast one of Brahms’ three piano trios with a trio written by another composer. Obviously, this one contrasts Brahms with Alexander von Zemlinsky, who as a young man in the 1890s knew Brahms and won the older composer’s approval of his own music. The two yet to come will juxtapose a Brahms trio with one by Ernst Krenek (good composer) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose music was so sappily Romantic that even his own father detested it.

This particular Zemlinsky piece was, in its original form, the one that Brahms admired and recommended to his own publisher, Simrock—a clarinet trio. But Simrock strongly advised that the trio be rescored for the more common violin-cello-piano combination, so that is what Zemlinsky did, not merely scoring the clarinet part for violin but writing an entirely new top line. Yet, as violinist Christoph Streuli notes, there are still some clarinet-like traits in the new violin part, particularly what he calls “flower garland parts” that sound as if they were written for a wind instrument. But the mere fact that Brahms admired Zemlinsky (and other Jewish musicians) tells you that he would not have been a fan of the Nazi regime, which is a nice thing to know.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Brahms Trio is a late work and one of his very finest, tightly written and absorbing the “hummable” melodic line into its ingeniously dense structure. The Feininger Trio plays with a brisk, exciting style, much in the same vein as Sequenza, who also recorded this work with the great Colin Carr on cello.

This Zemlinsky trio is indeed Brahms-like…so much so that, if you weren’t paying attention to the change of tracks on the CD, you might easily confuse it for a piece by Brahms except for the odd, melancholy secondary theme in the first movement, which is slightly different from the way Brahms wrote. Here, I felt that the Feininger Trio played it in a style that was a bit too mushy and Romantic than the music demanded in order to make it work best. I prefer the performance by Trio Voce on Con Brio 21344, but of course this is a thoroughly professional if somewhat too relaxed reading of the score.

A good CD, then, if not overall a gripping one.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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