A decade has passed since Trio Wanderer gave us a superb set of Brahms’ Piano Trios with the first Piano Quartet as filler. That recording set a benchmark thanks to the ensemble’s ideal balance of elegance and expressive intensity, so this sequel is long overdue.
The rarely heard first version of the Op. 8 Trio is a fascinating adjunct to that set and the Wanderers tackle the work with a different mindset, helping to delineate the self-critical composer’s maturing concision. They don’t linger as they did during the lengthy first movement, which Brahms initially over-egged with five themes, several of which were replaced by the lovely secondary subject.
Hanslick thought the fugato passage as inappropriate as a schoolboy Latin quotation in a love poem and the composer took note and cut it. The marvellous Scherzo he left well alone but for a few nips and tucks, however he wisely remodelled the middle of the slow movement; the mood swings of the original are superfluous with such animated flanking movements.
The last movement meanders through some tortured passages with a good third of the movement later excised and the clunky conclusion scrapped. While it’s an interesting example of a composer’s distillation I suspect most who love the familiar revision will only listen to this version once or twice as the younger man’s gaucheries wear thin.
The Piano Quartet, Op. 60 is another matter; a composer at the peak of his powers, a masterwork carefully crafted over 20 years with extraordinary cogency and thematic unity. This is a carefully judged performance of subtlety and discretion, a slow burn reading that lets the thematic development carry the narrative.
The Wanderers’ coolness at the opening soon thaws out but they keep a firm grip on the argument; they don’t overstate the sighing “Clara” figure in line with their classically poised view of the movement. The Scherzo has plenty of drive but the light touch avoids the overbearing. For the Andante they take the composer’s marking literally so it is a flowing interlude rather than a dirge while the Finale is more pensive than tragic.
If this implies a Brahms-lite quality rest assured that the Wanderers’ effortless panache and rhythmic energy compensates. It’s a valid alternative to the Capuçon/Angelich/Caussé reading on Virgin; an elegant cabernet rather than a big boofy shiraz. Sound is superbly present if a little opaque compared to the stunning transparency of the earlier set. (Warwick Arnold)