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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
View of Mount Brocken (1829) by Christian Ernst Bernhard Morgenstern (1805-1867)
Kunsthalle, Hamburg / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67485
Recording details: December 2003
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2005
Total duration: 26 minutes 48 seconds

'should give the lie to the cliché that Mendelssohn's genius declined irredeemably after the brilliance of youth. While always keeping the potentially dense textures lucid (Susan Tomes's refined, singing tone and articulation a constant pleasure), the Florestan play this with a mingled fire and lyrical tenderness that I have never heard bettered' (Gramophone)

'What immediately impresses about these performances by the Florestan Trio is the lightness and clarity of the playing, with Susan Tomes characteristically sparing in her use of pedal. In both works the scherzo is a typically fleeting and transparent piece, and it would be hard to imagine either more satisfactorily done' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Susan Tomes is a brilliant Mendelssohn pianist, not only in her wonderfully fleeting, accurate fingerwork but in her understanding of the shape and colour of the music and of Mendelssohn’s cunning sense of formal direction in his often quite complicated structures … The recording, of a thoroughly enjoyable disc, is exemplary in balance and clear presentation' (International Record Review)

'The Florestans keep textures light and transparent. Both performances are models of Mendelssohn interpretation' (The Guardian)

'The Florestan Trio were born to play Mendelssohn's two piano trios. Like the composer, they never overegg the pudding or skate over delights too briskly. Light and crisp in attack, but reflective when necessary, they move through the music with fleetness, joy, and an ensemble spirit that never allows for any cracks' (The Times)

'The Florestan's progress through the piano-trio repertoire reaches a peak with these masterly performances. All three players—Anthony Marwood, Richard Lester, Susan Tomes—do splendid justice to the surge and sweep of the great D minor, but also to its song-like tenderness' (The Sunday Times)

'This is music that the Florestan Trio was born to play. Violinist Anthony Marwood’s silvery purity, Richard Lester’s rich-toned clarity throughout the cello’s range and Susan Tomes’s exquisite phrasal subtlety fit hand-in-glove with Mendelssohn’s rarefied sound world. Add to that atmospheric engineering of velvet-cushioned clarity and this really is something of a dream disc' (The Strad)

'This is a truly stunning account … positively phenomenal, often building up to a volcanic passion that can sweep you away. Mendelssohn's thrilling élan has rarely been more wonderfully evoked' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The Florestan Trio plays Mendelssohn's Trios faster, cleaner and more beautifully than I would have thought possible. This is the best new chamber recording I've heard this year … this is indeed terrific stuff … their Mendelssohn-playing is nothing short of stunning. Susan Tomes manages the intricate piano parts' considerable technical challenges, not only with dead-on precision, but also with exactly the right touch: clean and delicate, but never dry, and never overbalancing the strings. Violinist Anthony Marwood and cellist Richard Lester play as one, with perfect ensemble and intonation. Balances and interplay among instruments are ideal throughout. All this is captured with wonderful transparency in Hyperion’s recording, with just the right amount of aural space around the instruments. Robert Philip’s notes are detailed to a fault. This has to be one of the year’s top chamber releases. Enthusiastically recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'these performances ensure solid balance throughout, with just the right conversational quality between the instruments to allow each to come forward and retreat according to the music's dictates … Thoroughly recommended' (Scotland on Sunday)

Piano Trio No 1 in D minor, Op 49

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Piano Trio No 1 in D minor Op 49 is the better known of the two, and was an immediate success after it was written in 1839. Schumann wrote of it, ‘This is the master trio of our age, as were the B flat and D major trios of Beethoven and the E flat trio of Schubert in their times. It is an exceedingly fine composition which will gladden our grandchildren and great-grandchildren for many years to come.’ After Mendelssohn had finished it, he showed it to the composer Ferdinand Hiller, who was staying with him in Leipzig. Hiller was very impressed, but had ‘one small misgiving. Certain pianoforte passages in it, constructed on broken chords, seemed to me – to speak candidly – somewhat old-fashioned.’ Hiller was a long-time friend of Liszt and Chopin, and was ‘thoroughly accustomed to the richness of passages which marked the new pianoforte school’. The result of Hiller’s suggestions was that Mendelssohn rewrote the entire piano part, making it less conventional in style – and, no doubt, much more difficult to play.

The cello’s great opening theme would seem leisurely if it were not for the piano’s agitated chords underneath it – the effect is like a great liner sweeping through choppy seas. The piano’s figurations become flying arpeggios as the theme is repeated. Then the music relaxes into a song-like second melody, with the piano still murmuring below. The middle section of the movement is dominated by this second theme, at times woven into counterpoint, at others building to climaxes. The return to the opening theme is particularly beautiful, with the cello’s melody joined by a haunting descending line in the violin (a new thought which Mendelssohn will develop further in the slow movement). The brilliance of the piano-writing reaches a climax in the final pages of the movement, which Mendelssohn marks ‘assai animato’.

The second movement is a lovely ‘Song without Words’ led by the piano, with each half repeated by the strings. Then, with a simple touch from major to minor, the piano launches into one of the most beautiful moments in the whole trio. This is the descending line which the violin played at the return of the opening theme in the first movement. Here it develops into an impassioned dialogue, and then subsides back to the opening song which is now elaborated delicately by the piano.

It is difficult to imagine that even the great Mendelssohn, playing on the light pianos of his day, could have performed the scherzo at his metronome marking – though the Italian instruction is merely ‘light and lively’. This movement is one of Mendelssohn’s most exuberant and delightful inspirations, with the opening motif constantly thrown from instrument to instrument, as if the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are at play. There are dark moments, and in the middle a suggestion of another song trying to break through. But in the end the lightness predominates, and the music vanishes into the sky as effortlessly as it arrived.

The finale is to be played ‘passionately’, but it starts with a quiet, four-square theme that at first seems very down-to-earth after the scherzo. As in the first movement, it is the brilliance of the piano-writing that lifts it off the ground and drives it forward. We seem set for a movement full of virtuosity and dash. But unexpectedly the cello launches into another of Mendelssohn’s sweeping melodies. After a time the opening returns, hesitantly at first, but then developing into another passage full of cascading piano-writing. It seems as if the end is approaching, but the singing cello theme breaks through again, leading to a final climax which brings together the virtuoso and lyrical elements of the movement.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2005

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