The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Thomas Riebl (viola) Gustav Rivinius (cello) Michelle Breedt (contralto) Silke Avenhaus (piano)
Composer: Brahms

We are in danger of hearing Brahms’s Clarinet Trio more often on viola than on the wind instrument, but if all contenders are as good as this one, I shall not complain. With Thomas Riebl focusing his tone well, the players take a firm grip on the first movement and the instruments are well distinguished by the recording.

Silke Avenhaus is a positive pianist throughout this programme, reminding me of our own Kathron Sturrock in the way she propels everything without hustling any of the themes. The Adagio is kept moving; at the start of the third movement Riebl provides a real cutting edge but it is all grazioso as marked; and the finale is well projected.

South African contralto Michelle Breedt is impressive in the songs, if not quite up to the best exponents; and one or two minute hiccups in Riebl’s tone suggest the performers have gone for spontaneity rather than perfection – a fair trade-off.
There is surge and thunder in the first movement of the F minor Sonata – Riebl seems to be using his own edition of both sonatas. He produces fine tone throughout the range. He and Avenhaus make the slow movement flow, get a nice lilt into the Scherzo and plunge into an impetuous finale.

A yielding, insinuating start to the E flat major Sonata promises well. Both players are heroic in the central movement, Avenhaus changing tempo convincingly; and after a nice, easy start the variations are well done, finishing with a flourish. Excellent presentation and recordings.