"This programme should more properly be called "German Piano Trios of the 20th Century" . If you are looking for the Abegg Trio′s interpretation of, say, Ravel′s great work in the genre you′ll have to look elsewhere in the Tacet catalogue. But the fact that all five of these pieces come from a single country (and that all but one of them were written during the second half of the century) takes no toll at all on the creative diversity of the music heard here. In general, these pieces are more modest and accessible than some listeners might expect from Germanic music of the previous century. Unlike Schoenberg or Stockhausen, these composers are less interested in conceiving a new kind of music for the future than in contemplating or conversing with, and sometimes subverting, their country′s musical past. Wolfgang Rihm′s Schumann-permeated Fremde Szene II, was composed in 1982/3 as part of a sequence of pieces described in a note by the composer as "experiments for piano trio, but also essays on the piano trio as such, this group of instrumentalists which is dominated by a piece of furniture which does not exist any more but still stands around." In what follows he seems to be saying that evoking the past does not necessarily entail nostalgia for it, but I think that, as is so often the case when approaching a piece of tough contemporary music for the first time, it is better to simply listen and keep the composer′s explanations at a distance.
You don′t need him to tell you that the strange scenes he is conjuring up here have their dark side. The passionate, Schumann-style lyricism he mimics so expertly as the piece opens - music in the hard-breathing manner of the opening of the First Violin Sonata is subjected to Modernist cutting and scrambling - is drawn into a spinning sonic kaleidoscope of Romantic and Modernist gestures.
It sounds like an idea that is unlikely to sustain a 20-minute work, but Rihm uses it to propel music that hurtles along like an amusement park ride, and manages to keep the Schumann spirit intact throughout. The conclusion, where the strings sing their hearts out over a craggy piano accompaniment, then fall silent as the piano, stuck on a single, quiet chord, flickers away into silence, is tantalising, and the performance by the Abegg Trio is a knockout. Wilhelm Killmayer′s Brahms portrait is less interested in doing violence to its subject′s music than in evoking its uniquely affecting ability to communicate the sadness that filled so much of his life. Killmayer′s music has not been widely available on recordings outside of Germany, but an EMI release of three cycles of Hoelderlin Lieder sung by Christoph Pregardien released during the early 1990s reveals a composer of great eloquence and depth. The Brahms Bildnis is similarly direct - Killmayer remarks in a brief note that "interesting methods, so to speak" have lost their attraction for him.
The opening and closing passages of his portrait, long, melancholy-saturated singing lines for the strings, do not imitate the Brahms style, but have the same emotional tinge. Once the piano enters, its part becoming increasingly emphatic and mechanical, the music accumulates energy but, especially after about 6:50, the link with Brahms′s music (if not his personal life) seems to be lost until the mournful spirit of the opening returns to conclude the piece. Hans-Werner Henze′s youthful Kammersonate, composed in 1948 during his student days, will refresh the ears of listeners who sometimes find themselves giving way under the thickness and weight of his more recent scores. The fast movements, like the opening Allegro assai, have a rhythmic energy and spiky harmonic language that suggests a Bartok influence, an impression that is reinforced by the hazy, dreamy sound of the Dolce, con tenerezzo second movement, which has a lot in common with the central movement of the Hungarian composer′s First Violin Sonata. But Henze′s own voice, the one that would soon be heard in the early symphonies, is clear. Brahms makes another appearance in connection with Dietrich Erdmann′s Trio. It was written in 1990 while the composer was staying in the Brahms house in Baden-Baden and, as in the Killmayer piece, there is a Brahmsian air about the lyrical string writing in the first two movements. The Poco adagio second movement, with it dark opening cello solo, is especially beautiful. But the Trio is by no means an exclusively sad or introspective piece. The Allegro music in the first movement, and the nimble finale are full of spirit, and as a whole this piece is perhaps the most enjoyable on the programme. Dieter Acker′s Stigmen is made up of five very brief movements, all but one of them lasting less than two minutes. There are Webern-like touches: the conclusion of the 40-second-long second movement and the attenuated sound world of the Lento that follows sometimes borrow the language of his early miniatures, but the open drama of Acker′s outer movements is all his own.
The Abegg Trio′s performances of this difficult music are powerfully communicative, and the recorded sound, as always with this label, is as good as it gets. Highly recommended."
Ung-aang Talay

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