Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International
November 2017

Recently I heard the Leonore Piano Trio playing a movement from one of Édouard Lalo’s Piano Trios and felt compelled to review this album. It was released in 2015, so it is not new. Only a few months ago I reviewed a most rewarding album from the Leonore Piano Trio of trios from Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev on Hyperion. Undoubtedly, I will make a point of hearing the trio’s album of the Anton Arensky piano trios also on Hyperion.

A contemporary of the great masters Schumann, Wagner and Brahms, French composer Lalo was an admired composer in his day. Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, for violin and orchestra, is now his most recorded and performed work by quite some distance, with a considerable number of accounts in the catalogue. Lalo was one of the nineteenth-century composers drawn to the composition of sumptuous orchestral and virtuoso works. Yet as a member of a string quartet, in which he played the viola and later the violin, he was also able to show his versatility as a composer in the more intimate genre of chamber music and composed a successful string quartet in 1859 (rev. 1880). Conversely, Lalo had already joined the trend away from the string quartet towards the trio—a medium which featured an increasingly prominent role for the piano. With his two piano trios composed around 1850/52, Lalo became one of the first French composers to write for this combination, going on to produce a third trio almost thirty years later.

The four-movement form of Lalo's piano trios follows the Germanic model of his contemporaries Schumann and Brahms. They have a sound world somewhere between Mendelssohn and Schumann, whose music was a substantial influence. Unlike Lalo’s orchestral and concertante works, which I often find a touch too predictable and sweet-toothed for my taste, these engaging and colourful piano trios have an enormous vitality, combined with a certain grittiness which took me by surprise. The only drawback for me is Lalo’s failure to create memorable themes, which is probably the reason these works have not remained in the repertoire, unlike those of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.

These stunning performances from the Leonore Piano Trio are highly convincing, conveying magnificent spirit which brings out the joy and vivacity of these works. The players demonstrate an attentive ear for each other and play with impressive unity without losing any sense of individual character. My highlights include the reflective, delightfully romantic rendition of the Andante in the Second Trio and the resolve and sense of total concentration in the energetic Presto of the Third Trio. Leader Benjamin Nabarro is a splendid chamber player, leading the trio forward with energy and assurance, while cellist Gemma Rosefield and pianist Tim Horton provide highly responsive support.

Recorded at the Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate both the violin and piano, although sounding quite attractive, are recorded a touch brightly for my ideal. The cello comes out best with a rich resonant tone. Roger Nichols is the author of the readable and highly informative essay in the booklet.

Regarding the comparative versions of these three Lalo piano trios, I admire the recording by Trio Parnassus, an account high on style and vitality recorded in 1992 at Bad Arolsen on MDG. Nevertheless, this album from Leonore Piano Trio is even finer with engaging and beautifully played performances guaranteed to delight chamber music lovers.