Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos & Yo-Yo Ma: Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Movement I (excerpt)

Brahms: The Piano Trios CD review – faultless, larger-than-life music making by Andrew Clements

The tradition of leading soloists joining up to play the staples of the chamber-music repertory is a long and distinguished one. One of the most celebrated early recordings of the three Brahms piano trios was made in the 1940s by the “million-dollar trio” of violinist Jascha Heifetz, pianist Artur Rubinstein and cellist Emanuel Feuermann (later replaced by Gregor Piatigorsky), and the latest set comes from three of today’s star instrumentalists. Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax regularly give cello-and-piano recitals together, and Leonidas Kavakos fits well into their slightly larger-than-life music making.

The quality of their playing is never in doubt, and the ensemble is faultless. There’s tremendous authority in the assertive movements – the scherzo of the B major Trio Op 8 (which they play in its final revised version), or the opening Allegro of the C major Trio Op 87 – but there could be something more personal in the more wistfully introspective ones, such as the theme and variations of Op 87, and in the almost Mendelssohnian fleetness of the Presto in the C minor Trio Op 101. It’s hard to escape the feeling sometimes that these three superb musicians are each doing their own thing musically, rather than contributing to a collective whole.

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