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Hyperion Records

CDA67609 - Mozart: Piano Trios
The Swing by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695-1736)
Private Collection / © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Release date: May 2007
Total duration: 60 minutes 1 seconds


'At the start of K548's airy finale, Susan Tomes' gracefully demure piano is swiftly countered by Anthony Marwood's raffish forte riposte: and this sense of delighted, quick-witted dialogue between quasi-operatic protagonists runs through the whole movement, abetted by touches of sly, subtle timing, from Marwood especially. No performance of this piece has ever made me smile as much … talk of an outright winner is always dangerous. For my taste, though, the Florestan's sparkling, inventive performances, on this disc and its companion, make them a top recommendation for the complete Mozart trios, their claims enhanced by the warm, ideally balanced recording' (Gramophone)

'These are certainly performances to be treasured, with the playing unfailingly stylish and full of imaginative touches … their new recording can be unreservedly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'With their close and subtle rapport, the Florestan relish the music's badinage and dramatic imbroglios. They have a knack, too, for sensing opportunities for interplay in the simplest theme-plus-accompaniment texture … the sensitive, quick-witted Florestan now take the palm' (The Daily Telegraph)

'These performances are inventive, spontaneous, expressive. They bring a singing quality to the melodies and a real grasp of structure … there is a real sense of occasion, of something important happening' (American Record Guide)

'There is a thematic richness here [K496], and a depth of emotion especially in the Andante, that invite and here receive a much more serious interpretative approach. The phrasing is appropriately broader, the instrumental tone warmer and in general there is a greater eloquence in response to a true Mozart masterpiece … the recordings are excellent: close and very well balanced for the needs of each work' (International Record Review)

'Even the two masterpieces … are neglected today. These marvellously urbane and civilised performances make one wonder why' (The Sunday Times)

'The Florestan Trio get it exactly right, with Susan Tomes' exquisite pianisim perfectly supported by violinist Anthony Marwood's lithe, highly articulate playing and cellist Richard Lester's finely judged asides. Another winner from this wonderful ensemble' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This is a reference recording! How joyful, the sparkling flair of this new release. Hyperion has once more amazed us in offering a sample of exquisite musicianship, combined with a vividly engineered sounds. richly detailed and ideally suited for Mozart's sensitive scoring. Ensemble work is flawless, and intonation is no problem whatsoever. All three musicians are constantly looking for an original yet thoughtful approach to the score, and they succeed extremely well in doing so. I can't wait to hear their next contribution' (Fanfare, USA)

'The Trio's Mozart interpretations are really second to none. With a delightful 'classical' approach their playing is light and nimble, and never too weighty even when the music might suggest it. Particularly in K548, they slip between light and heavy naturally and seamlessly. The balance between the three instruments is spot on throughout, which reflects not only the players' astute and perfectly even-handed awareness of each other but also the skill and sensitivity of the recording engineer. The Florestan Trio are no strangers to the recording stage, and are collecting an enviable amount of excellent reviews. This is another one to add to the treasury. Bravo!' (MusicWeb International)

'The Florestan Trio take on Mozart's trios and inhect them with an enthusiastic zest. The textures are light, the playing airy, with a real sense of dialogue. Susan Tomes is pure magic on the piano, Richard Lester draws the oakiest of timbres from his cello, while violinist Anthony Marwood takes on his task with absolute glee' (The Northern Echo)

'This is lovely music impeccably performed, recorded and presented' (

'The Florestan Trio are back, and it almost goes without saying that their latest album is life-affirming, full of energy and deeply impressive—particularly in the way the musicians listen to each other even as they respond in dazzling style' (

Piano Trios
Allegro assai  [6'05]
Adagio  [5'16]
Allegro  [8'21]
Andante  [6'00]
Allegro  [7'07]
Allegro  [4'38]

Universally acclaimed Mozartians The Florestan Trio bring their high interpretative standards, effortless lyricism and faultless execution to a second volume of Mozart’s piano trios. Volume 1 was described as ‘chamber music playing of the very highest order’, setting new standards for performances of these works.

Mozart more than any other composer took the piano trio out of its domestic setting and into the concert hall, bringing profound musical thought to what was previously a delightful diversion for amateur keyboardists and their friends. This disc traces that development. The violin and cello parts were elevated from accompanying instruments to positions of greater prominence. The piano parts were written for Mozart himself to play at the height of his Viennese fame and they are suitably virtuosic and adventurous. Susan Tomes’s Mozartian credentials are thoroughly established (not least by her wonderful Hyperion recordings of Mozart piano concertos, as well as chamber music) and these performances are a triumph of sensitivity and style.

Other recommended albums
'Howells: In Gloucestershire; Dyson: Three Rhapsodies' (CDA66139)
Howells: In Gloucestershire; Dyson: Three Rhapsodies
'Monteverdi: The Sacred Music, Vol. 1' (CDA67428)
Monteverdi: The Sacred Music, Vol. 1
'Mozart: Piano Trios K502,542,564' (CDA67556)
Mozart: Piano Trios K502,542,564

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Despite its title, the Divertimento in B flat K254 is, in effect, Mozart’s first piano trio, written in Salzburg in 1776: ‘in effect’, because it is unlikely that Mozart had the opportunity to play it on a piano at that date. The principal keyboard instrument in the Mozart household at this period was a two-manual harpsichord. Mozart had, however, certainly played on fortepianos on his travels, and he was to do so again soon after writing this Divertimento. Letters to his father reveal that he played this work twice on the piano while he was in Munich in October 1777, on both occasions at the inn ‘Zum schwarzen Adler’ (The Black Eagle), where the proprietor was Franz Joseph Albert. He was described by Mozart as ‘a thoroughly sincere man and such a good friend’, and he was a music-lover who possessed a fortepiano. At one informal gathering of musicians, Mozart took the violin part of the Divertimento and played ‘as if I were the greatest fiddler in the whole of Europe’. The other occasion was a little private concert in honour of Albert’s birthday. This time Mozart played the piano part, giving the violin line to a visiting violinist who was a pupil of the great Tartini. Unfortunately he couldn’t sight-read, and kept on going wrong. Mozart writes: ‘There indeed I had a fine accompanist! In the Adagio I had to play his part for six bars.’ Back in Salzburg, Mozart’s father Leopold had better luck the following January, when two visiting musicians asked to hear Mozart’s sister play (presumably on the family harpsichord), and ‘accompanied Nannerl most excellently in your clavier trio in B flat’.

‘Accompany’, a word pianists have good reason to mistrust, is the right word in this case, though it is the stringed instruments that accompany the piano, not the other way round. Those letters reveal just the sort of informal setting for which this trio was designed. In this, unlike Mozart’s later trios, it follows the pattern of Haydn and a host of lesser composers in providing amateur keyboard-players with a delightful work for them to play on whatever instrument was available, with their friends accompanying them on violin and cello. Such works were published not as trios, but as ‘Sonatas for harpsichord or forte piano, with the accompaniment of violin and violoncello’. There was a very large market for them, particularly in Vienna and England.

In Mozart’s Divertimento, as in other accompanied sonatas, the cello shadows the bass of the piano almost throughout, almost in the manner of the Baroque continuo (Mozart’s layout of the parts in the score suggests something of this tradition, with the cello part below the piano, and the violin above). In the first movement the violin provides a charming foil to the piano’s right hand, sometimes filling in with an accompanying figure, at other times moving in thirds against the melody, or answering the piano’s phrases. As the work continues, the violin’s freedom increases, and it becomes a much more equal partner with the piano in the second and third movements. The first movement is a brisk Allegro assai, the finale a minuet-rondo, a form in which Mozart’s friend Johann Christian Bach excelled. The central Adagio looks forward to the later trios, with its melancholy touches of chromatic harmony, and the increasingly airborne decoration of its melody.

The piano trios that Mozart wrote in Vienna after he moved there in 1781 are quite different from the earlier Divertimento, both in musical scope and in the relationship between the instruments. Mozart soon achieved fame in the city as a pianist, and had acquired his own fortepiano by 1785. The keyboard parts that he wrote for his piano trios were now much less suitable for playing on the harpsichord, and much more demanding. Although the best amateur players would certainly have played them on the harpsichord if a piano was not available, they were written for Mozart himself to perform on the fortepiano at his concerts in Vienna. The piano parts are tailored to his own exceptional skills as a pianist—his ‘quickness, neatness and delicacy … and a sensitivity that went straight to the heart’, as an early biographer put it. Indeed, it was Mozart more than anyone who awoke the Viennese to the expressive possibilities of the piano as a chamber and concerto instrument. At the same time Mozart created a new relationship in his trios between the piano and the stringed instruments, in which violin and cello began to take on independent lives of their own.

The Piano Trio in G major K496 is the first of these mature trios, one of a pair written in 1786 (the other being the trio in B flat K502, see Hyperion CDA67556). Mozart had been living in Vienna for five years and was beginning to enjoy some real success, for the first and only time in his career. The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in May 1786, and was increasingly acclaimed as its run continued. In March he had completed two of his greatest piano concertos, K488 in A major and K491 in C minor. This G major Piano Trio followed in July.

The solo piano introduces the opening theme, which is almost operatic in its fluid decoration. At first, only the violin joins in the dialogue, with the cello fulfilling its traditional role as the bass instrument. But the middle section begins dramatically with all instruments fortissimo, and then quietly the cello leads off the discussion, suddenly taking its place as the equal of piano and violin—a moment that must have been startling to Mozart’s contemporaries. The Andante begins, like the first movement, with an elegantly decorated theme. But the movement that unfolds has unexpected depth and complexity, with sudden modulations and, in the middle section, contrapuntal interweavings that remind us of Mozart’s love of J S Bach and Handel. The finale is a set of variations on a rather stately gavotte. The first three variations proceed innocently, but the fourth variation, in the minor, interrupts the calm with an extraordinary change of tone, the violin reiterating a drone-like motif, the cello repeating a sombre bass line below, and the piano weaving more counterpoint above. The fifth variation is an Adagio, which seems almost to take us back to the slow movement. The final variation brings a return to the gavotte tempo with flamboyant piano arpeggios, and all seems set for a brilliant ending. But the strange drone motif and counterpoint from the fourth variation return, and only just in time Mozart pulls the music back to a cheerful conclusion.

In the summer of 1788 Mozart wrote another pair of piano trios: the trio in E major K542 (recorded on Hyperion CDA67556), and the work included on this recording, the Piano Trio in C major K548. This was around the time of the symphonies in E flat (No 39) and G minor (No 40), and Mozart may have written this trio to play at one of the concerts planned for his new orchestral works. But although this was a period of extraordinary productivity, it brought Mozart little financial reward. Austria was at war with the Ottoman Empire, aristocratic support for the arts had dwindled, and Mozart’s wife Constanze was ill and required expensive treatment at a spa. In April Mozart had advertised for subscriptions to a manuscript edition of three string quintets. But there were so few subscribers that he was forced to postpone the publication until the following year. He was running up substantial debts, and the family moved from their apartment in the centre of the city out into a suburb. Shortly before this trio was written, Mozart’s fourth child died. But there seems no clear link between the events of Mozart’s life and the mood of his music. Works that are urgent and tragic in tone alternate freely with others that are cheerful and relaxed, and theories about manic-depressive tendencies do little to explain the pattern.

The first movement of the trio opens confidently, with assertive octaves played by all three instruments, answered delicately and questioningly by the piano. Soon there are flamboyant runs in both piano and violin suggesting that, despite the opening exchange, this trio is going to be uncomplicated in tone. The central development draws out rather a different story. The contrasts of the opening return, the assertive octaves are now in minor keys and alternate with sighing phrases and chromatic shifts. The piano attempts to introduce more flamboyant arpeggios, but the sighing phrases persist, and when the assertive opening theme returns, one is left with the feeling that there is an element of bravura in the confidence. This sense is reinforced by the occasional hesitant touch of minor keys during the reprise and the return of the sighing phrases as the overtly cheerful movement works towards its conclusion.

Similar dark hints also colour the slow movement. The calm of the opening theme is disturbed by sudden accents. A second, more expansive theme, is taken up yearningly by the cello, and a delicate third theme is coloured by dark chromatic touches in its harmonies. It is the middle of the movement that takes us furthest away from the calm decorations of the opening melody. The three instruments combine in octaves once more, but now fiercely. Florid runs from the beginning of the movement are answered by snatches of the expansive second theme, but now combined with shifts of harmony that create a more searching and unsettled impression.

The third movement has the innocent charm of several of Mozart’s piano concerto finales. There are more little chromatic touches in the principal theme, but by now they are playful rather than serious. There is a central episode in C minor, in which variants of the opening figure call to each other from instrument to instrument, and the movement begins to take on a suggestion of Beethoven-like urgency. But this is short lived, and Mozart works back to C major, side-stepping the first theme to plunge straight into the middle of the opening material. When he does eventually return to the first theme, it has acquired witty little decorations, which take on a mock-clumsy air when imitated by the violin. And at the end of the movement, one of the hesitant chromatic moments from the early part of the movement is reiterated, delaying the music in its tracks. But the emphatic conclusion, with the three instruments combining cheerfully in octaves for the last time, makes it clear that any dark elements have by now been thoroughly vanquished.

Robert Philip © 2007

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