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Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: HIP Mozart Piano Trios

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Mozart, Piano Trios (Complete), Trio Stradivari
cpo 777 27302

Mozart’s Piano Trios are not as prominent in Mozart’s chamber output as his ingenious String Quintets or the String Quartets, but the are utterly lovely works that never really fail to charm. They have been well served by a host of good recordings: The Beaux Arts Trio is, rightfully, a classic. The magnificent Florestan Trio has recorded them on two discs (hyperion), and so did the Trio Parnassus (MDG).

That’s daunting competition, and this cpo release with the Trio Stradivari competes for its spot on your shelf not by trying to better the above, but by offering the trios in performances on original instruments. That’s what the Trio 1790 did for cpo on their very fine Haydn Piano Trio traversal, offering the original instrument spice to the Beaux Arts Trio’s sumptuous old-school beauty.

The Trio Stradivari, made up of Jolanda Violanta on the fortepiano, Luigi Piovano on Violoncello, and Federico Gulielmo on violin, amiably plays its way through the five Piano Trios and the Divertimento KV254 in Bˉ minor with an element of honest rawness in their sound that might be found gripping and intimate. Of course it might just as well be thought of craggy and unrefined. That can, in part, be blamed on the nature of the beast that is Historically Informed Performance. But HIP need not mean tinny sound and intonation issues. Fortunately, the Trio Stradivari suffers from neither of these. But they do sound clangy in a way that only true HIP-fans will find as adding to this music, rather than subtracting.

In the Allegretto of the E major Trio, Mme. Violante goes on to show that she is a formidable pianist who can produce precisely the kind of pebbly sparkle where the fortepiano has an advantage over the modern concert grand. Yet none of the slow movements – and surely not for lack of skill on her part –are as touching as when Menahem Pressler or Susan Tomes caress their instrument.

Detailed comparison with modern-instrument is ultimately futile here. The differences are too stark, the fortepiano sound too brittle, and the strings not sweet and warm enough to make this palatable to those looking for Mozart as exemplified by the above mentioned alternatives.

What about HIPsters, then? Well, there is competition here, too – and that makes the difference between the Trio Stradivari recording being keenly appreciated (as an alternative reading), and superfluous. And as long as the wonderful original instrument recording of the Mozartean Players (available on two budget “Classical Express” discs or as part of Harmonia Mundi’s lavish, mid-price Mozart Anniversary Edition) is around, the Italians will be a second choice. The “Mozartean” Steven Lubin (on a copy of a Walter fortepiano) produces a tone that is still distinct period sound, but together with his colleagues he continually manages to inject a joy into these performances, that Mozart skips, dances, and flows along very happily. (Indeed, so happily that the Mozartean Players are a sure recommendation for period and non-period Mozart lovers alike.)

Cpo’s recorded sound is pleasantly neutral, the liner notes very good, and the English translation thereof reasonably idiomatic. Giving the composer’s name as Wolfgang Amadé Mozart—though that is how he preferred to be called—has an unnecessarily self-conscious touch to it.

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