Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music
CDS44331/42 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 1: Allegro energico
Movement 2: Presto non assai
Movement 3: Andante grazioso
Movement 4: Allegro molto
In one of his evocative similes, Donald Francis Tovey described the Scherzo of the C minor Trio as a piece that ‘hurries by, like a frightened child’. Not that the piece is that fast (‘Presto non assai’ is Brahms’s equivocal tempo marking), but it does share the spectral character of the Scherzo from the Op 87 Trio. This time the strings are muted, and the middle section—hardly a trio in the conventional sense—does little to disturb the nocturnal atmosphere.
Brahms at first notated the slow movement in the unusual time-signature of seven beats to the bar before opting instead to divide the metre into a recurring pattern consisting of a single bar of three beats followed by two of two beats. As in the Adagio of the B major Trio Brahms has the piano and strings alternating, though in this case it is the violin and cello that take the lead. The pulse quickens for a middle section maintaining both the music’s metrical irregularity (the impression created here is of five beats to the bar) and its basic alternation between strings and piano.
The finale sets off with what might be described as an intensified form of ‘hunting’ rondo theme. In fact, as in the Horn Trio, the piece turns out to be a sonata form, and its concentration on the minor is almost unrelieved until the onset of the coda. Here, at last, the music turns to the major and the violin transforms the main subject into a flowing melody not dissimilar to the theme of the trio section from Op 87’s Scherzo. Even at this stage, however, the music’s dramatic sweep remains undiminished and the work ends as powerfully as it began.
from notes by Misha Donat © 1998