Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos performing Brahms Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major – Movement III.

Leonidas Kavakos, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax: Brahms, the Piano Trios by Tim Homfray

The Strad Issue: January 2018
Description: Gloriously warm and eloquent Brahms from a trio of masters
Musicians: Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Emanuel Ax (piano)
Works: BRAHMS Piano Trios: no.1 in B major op.8, no.2 in C major op.87, no.3 in C minor, op.101
Catalogue Number: SONY CLASSICAL 88985407292 (2 CDs)

These trios run in order of composition, so the heavily revised version of the first trio appears last. The C major second trio is warm-blooded, sultry, with even (whisper it) a touch of the Mediterranean. The first movement varies between a one-in-the-bar and a three-in-the-bar feel, sometimes swaggering along with an easy rubato, at others probing and introspective. There is muscularity where needed, but also a wonderful lightness of touch, as in the pianissimo interplay of the scherzo. This is, in essence, happy, in the finest traditions of C major.

There is something elegiac and profoundly lyrical about the opening movement of the third trio, for all its C minor seriousness, with the tone clean and full. Surely Marlene Dietrich could have sung the creamy E flat melody, and further in, the musicians seem close to the atmosphere of a Viennese coffee house. The Presto is an exhibition of superior legato playing, and the string duets in the Andante grazioso are simply gorgeous.

In the first movement of the B major Trio no.1, the players combine vigour with a willingness to linger and smell the roses. At the outset Yo-Yo Ma draws the listener in with exquisite playing in the opening melody, and later they change down a gear to savour the lead into C sharp major. In the scherzo, following the light-footed Allegro molto, the meno allegro central section is rich, flowing and beautifully phrased. After the hushed mysteries of the Adagio, the finale has a splendidly muscular finish. The recorded sound is well balanced and warm.

TIM HOMFRAY

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