FoM Recordings

Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49; Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 66

The Smithsonian Chamber Players (Vera Beths, violin; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello; Pedja Muzijevic, fortepiano)


FoM 36-803

      Aside from an early (1820) trio for violin, viola, and piano, the two works on the present recording are Mendelssohn’s only engagement with the combination of piano with two stringed instruments. Credit for perfecting the classical piano trio, in which violin and cello join the piano, must be given to Haydn, who began cultivating the genre around 1760 (though the keyboard parts for these early works were certainly originally intended for the harpsichord), and by 1796 had written some forty-five trios, the bulk of them conceived for the piano. Meanwhile, Mozart had begun exploring the piano trio around 1776, and produced seven exquisite works over the course of a dozen years. One sign of the trio’s growing prestige and popularity is the fact that the young Beethoven chose to present three piano trios as his Viennese Op. 1 in 1795. His ten trios, and the two similarly-scored large-scale masterpieces of Schubert, defined the “grand style” of the early decades of the nineteenth century.

      The real virtuosity of the C Minor Trio is compositional, and reflects its composer’s affinity for the music of J. S. Bach (whose St. Matthew Passion the young Mendelssohn had famously “revived” in 1829). The Trio’s first movement is full of contrapuntal niceties, and the Finale includes several rather Bach-like appearances of a chorale which seems to be a mélange of Gelobet seist Du, Jesu Christ and The Old Hundredth. The resemblance of the Finale’s opening to the theme of the G Minor English Suite’s Gigue (presented, for reference, on the CD as track [10]) is as much an act of homage as is the close parallelism of “Es ist genug” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah to Bach’s “Es ist vollbracht” from the St. John Passion. 

      The sheer number of notes found in the piano parts of both Mendelssohn trios often threatens, in performances with modern concert grands, to overwhelm the strings. Working with the splendid Regier fortepiano, an instrument strikingly similar to many that Mendelssohn would have known, we find the work takes on new brilliance and transparency, with exquisitely-wrought balances.  We hope, therefore, to recapture some of the “enchanting freshness” Schumann noted in Mendelssohn’s own performances, and invite those to whom these pieces may have become all too well-known to approach them anew with us.

—from Kenneth Slowik's liner essay


Listen to the Scherzo from the Trio in D Minor, Op. 49

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$16.00 + $2.98 shipping & handling
On this album: 

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Trio in D Minor, Op. 49 (1839)

   [1] Molto allegro e agitato

   [2] Andante con moto tranquillo

   [3] Scherzo. Leggiero e vivace

   [4] Finale. Allegro assai appassionato

 Trio in C Minor, Op. 66 (1845)

   [5] Allegro energico e con fuoco

   [6] Andante espressivo

   [7] Scherzo. Molto allegro quasi presto

   [8] Finale. Allegro appassionato


   [9] this track intentionally left blank

   [10] Johann Sebastian Bach: Gigue from the English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808