Lalo Complete Piano Trios MDG

Déjà Review: this review was first published in September 2003 and the recording is still available.

Edouard Lalo (1823-1892)
Complete Piano Trios
Piano Trio No.1, in C minor Op.7 (c.1850-52)
Piano Trio No.2, in B minor, Op.2 (c.1850-52)
Piano Trio No.3, in A minor, Op.26 (1880)
Trio Parnassus 
rec. 1992, Furstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, Germany
MDG 3030482-2 [78]

A contemporary of the great masters Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, the French composer Lalo was a most admired composer in his day. Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, for violin and orchestra is now his most recorded and performed work by quite a distance, with over a dozen versions in the current catalogue. The Cello Concerto has also several available recordings together with one or two versions of the violin concerto, the Concert Russe, the Piano Concerto and his Symphony in C minor which is available occasionally. As the majority of these recordings have been in the catalogue for some years, I sense that Lalo has become rather unfashionable of late. In fact I cannot recall when I last saw a Lalo composition programmed in a UK concert or recital programme.

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 and he went onto produce a third trio almost thirty years later.

The four-movement form of the trios follows the Germanic model of his contemporaries Schumann and Brahms with a sound world somewhere between Mendelssohn and Schumann. Unlike Lalo’s orchestral and concertante works which I often find 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 state memorable themes, which is probably the reason that these works have not remained in the repertoire unlike those piano trios of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.

The talented Trio Parnassus are most persuasive, conveying a marvellous spirit which gives sparkle and joy to the proceedings. I particularly like how the players demonstrate an attentive ear for one another together with enviable individual élan. Chai Chow is a marvellous chamber pianist, always in control, leading the trio forward with tremendous assurance. We are not informed what make of piano Chai Chow is playing but the tone is superb. This is heard to great effect in the finale of the Piano trio No. 1, on track 4, point 0:46. The string players too give really fine performances, clearly relishing the challenge, offering a gorgeous sound and marvellously in tune. A fine example of their beautiful string playing is heard in the allegro sectionof the Piano Trio No. 2, on track 5, first from cellist Michael Gross at point 1:35, shortly followed by the violin of Wolf-Dieter Steicher at point 1:57.

I am familiar with the only two comparative versions of these three piano trios that I understand to be currently available in the catalogue. There is a version from the Trio Salomon on Meridian CDE84437 and secondly a superior set of the two from the Barbican Trio on ASV CDDCA899. Neither of the Meridian and ASV recordings can, I feel, compete with the style and vitality of this version from the Trio Parnassus, which I now consider to be the premier recommendation.

This was recorded back in 1992 and although we are not told I would guess that these works may have been previously released. I have come across the Trio Parnassus on record a couple of times previously and they are clearly a most talented ensemble giving impressive readings of these attractive Lalo works. The sound quality from MDG is very fine, if just lacking a touch of transparency at the expense of warmth and the booklet notes are informative but perhaps, somewhat too technical in parts.

This is a most beautiful and appealing release, guaranteed to please chamber music lovers.

Michael Cookson

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