The most striking work here is the earliest, written when Bruch was 19, which may or may not say something about how his talent developed from such an impressive start. The Piano Trio begins, unusually for the period, with a slow movement of darkly expressive emotional power, followed by a quicker Scherzo-and-Trio and a Presto finale that whirls along in a torrent of speedy invention. A local critic at its premiere in Cologne (Bruch’s home town) disapproved of this boldness of design, which itself gives an idea of how original it must have sounded.
The Second String Quartet, composed three years later, already seems to have rowed back from the Piano Trio’s strong personality: like the Romance for viola and piano and the Four Pieces for cello and piano, the music is personable, but not of a quality that adds to our picture of the composer and his artistic world. Taking their cue from Stephanie Gonley’s first-violin leadership, the Trio and Quartet performances have a classy verve that convinces strongly, although the lower strings feel rather too hectoring in the Quartet’s last two movements. Adrian Brendel and Lawrence Power excel in the Romance and Four Pieces, as does Simon Crawford-Phillips’s accompanying—strongly characterful, while not looking to dominate—in both works and in the Piano Trio.