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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 53 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 2 in C minor, Op 66
composer

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Piano Trio No 2 in C minor Op 66 followed six years after the D minor, in 1845, and was dedicated to Louis Spohr. Mendelssohn wrote to him, ‘I would like to have saved the honour for a somewhat longer piece, but then I should have had to put it off, as I have so often of late. Nothing seemed good enough to me, and in fact neither does this trio.’ Mendelssohn’s energy and health were beginning to fail, and he had retired from his orchestral duties. But there is no sign of weakness in the C minor Trio. It is as fine a work as its companion, and if it has never been as popular as the D minor, this is because it does not wear its melody on its sleeve in quite the same way.

For Mendelssohn’s generation, writing a work in C minor had a particular resonance from the music of Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor was greatly admired by Beethoven for its uniquely ambivalent mood of serene tragedy. Beethoven’s works in C minor have a characteristically rugged seriousness of purpose – the ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, Fifth Symphony, and Overture to Coriolan – and they in turn were admired by Mendelssohn and his contemporaries. Joachim once heard Mendelssohn play the Overture to Coriolan on the piano from the full score, in which ‘he brought out the effects of the orchestral score in a most astonishing manner’. It is easy to imagine this scene as Mendelssohn’s Trio in C minor gets under way.

Unlike the D minor Trio, this work does not start with a fully fledged melody, but with a swirling pattern rising up from the bass. But Mendelssohn can never resist melody for long, and as the piano becomes more agitated the violin and cello sing above it. With such a turbulent start to the movement, one might expect the second theme to be a quiet contrast. But it emerges fortissimo out of the climax, only then calming to a gentle melody. Staccato versions of the opening motif lead to a grand, almost chorale-like culmination, and cascades of arpeggios round off the first section of the movement. A meditation on the second theme follows, led by the cello, with fragments of the opening pattern interwoven. Seamlessly, we find ourselves back where we started, with the piano still playing fragments of the second theme as the violin and cello launch into the reprise of the opening. The sequence of events proceeds much as before, subsiding into a moment of hush. From this emerges an almost ecclesiastical-sounding interweaving of violin and cello, and the sense of ancient grandeur is enhanced by the strings playing the opening pattern at half speed in counterpoint with the piano. A mighty crescendo follows, and, after a pause, the movement hammers to its close with almost Beethoven-like ferocity.

The slow movement, as in the D minor Trio, is a ‘Song without Words’, this time with a swinging rhythm reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s Venetian Gondola Songs. A middle section ventures further afield, and the opening returns with its melody intensified by delicate filigrees in the piano, rising to an impassioned climax.

The scherzo, like that of the first Trio, has an impossibly fast metronome marking, but with the more realistic instruction ‘quasi presto’. Unlike the earlier scherzo, this one is in a minor key, which has the curious effect of making it sound closer to the fairy world of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (do fairies only dance in minor keys?), though the scherzo it most resembles is that of Mendelssohn’s Octet.

The finale is like a sturdy Baroque jig on a grand scale – indeed, its opening few notes are rather like the gigue that ends J S Bach’s English Suite in G minor. The cello’s initial leap takes on different guises as the movement proceeds. At first it is startling and forceful, overshooting an octave from G to A flat; later it is softened to become playful or wistful, returning to its original character (and interval) at emphatic and climactic moments. The second theme is vintage Mendelssohn, with the violin and cello rising in song out of a fortissimo climax, rather as they did at the equivalent point of the first movement. After the neo-Baroque start, Mendelssohn saves his most striking antique reference for the heart of the movement. This is a Lutheran-style chorale, intoned quietly by the piano as the strings continue to exchange fragments of the opening theme, like two diminutive figures speaking in hushed tones as they enter a great cathedral. This chorale returns to form a mighty climax near the end of the movement. Several writers have stated that it is a genuine sixteenth-century chorale, notably Eric Werner, who has identified it as ‘Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich’ from the 1551 Genevan Psalter. This is the original of the hymn tune known in the English-speaking world as ‘The Old Hundredth’ (‘All people that on earth do dwell’). The opening does indeed resemble it, particularly the second phrase, but thereafter Mendelssohn is not so much quoting a chorale as meditating on it, taking the melody to a new climax. Whether or not Mendelssohn had this particular chorale in mind is really beside the point, just as it doesn’t matter whether he was quoting Bach at the opening of the movement. His approach to such material was essentially Romantic. Like contemporary poets and painters, what he offers to the listener is his own contemplation of this ancient religious music, and the majestic climax shows that Mendelssohn shared the Romantic vision of the sacred as personal experience, as an aspect of the sublime.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2005

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