Robert Schumann’s F-major Piano Trio (Opus 80) opens this Leipzig-centric recording with a burst of energy that takes the listener along with it, and also establishes the Phoenix Piano Trio (Jonathan Stone, violin, Christian Elliott, cello, and Sholto Kynoch) as an estimable ensemble, driving Schumann’s Sehr lebhaft with dynamism but also light and shade and knowing just when to ease off the gas a little. This opening movement is also indicative of David Rowell’s perfectly engineered sound; intimate yet airy. Schumann’s remaining three movements are also brought off with style and discernment, revealing the composer’s confidences, mood-swings and likeable quirks.
If the work as a whole isn’t Schumann at his supreme best (he might have found it tricky to follow the standout opening movement), then there can be no doubt as to the masterpiece status of Felix Mendelssohn’s C-minor Piano Trio (Opus 66). Following a surreptitious yet ardent Allegro energico e con fuoco (exactly that from the Phoenix members) is a blissful Andante espressivo, then a feather-light mercurial Scherzo (trademark Mendelssohn), the musicians deftly matching the prescribed Molto allegro quasi presto. The second-subject basis of the final movement, Allegro appassionato, is one of those Heaven-sent melodies – noble-heroic – that you listen to in wonder (where did Mendelssohn find that from?), nowhere more so than on its ultimate utterance, most-tenderly addressed by Kynoch.
In case you are wondering how Copenhagen-born Niels Gade (1817-1890) fits into the Leipzig scene, well Mendelssohn conducted his music, and Gade moved there in 1843 to assist him and also teach at the Conservatory. A couple of years later Gade substituted for an ailing composer to conduct the premiere of Mendelssohn’s E-minor Violin Concerto (Ferdinand David as soloist) and then succeeded him as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, a short-lived appointment given war broke out between Prussia and Denmark and Gade returned to Copenhagen. His five Novelletten are charming, leaning more to Schumann (whom Gade also knew on friendly terms) than Mendelssohn.
Mark Stone has a winner with this release! Stone Records 5060192780949.