The Strad Issue: May 2015
Description: Power and symphonic sweep in Mendelssohn’s two trios
Musicians: Aquinas Piano Trio
Composer: Mendelssohn

Captured in opulent sound of unusual depth that gently cushions the music’s semiquaver brilliance, the emotional kinship between Mendelssohn and the Schumann–Brahms tradition has rarely been so powerfully conveyed. In place of customary Mozart-in-overdrive diamantine clarity and fastidiousness, the Aquinas Trio rejoices in these cherishable scores with a symphonic sweep and an insatiable forward momentum that imparts to the outer movements an elemental power, and rescues the ‘song without words’ slow movement of the D minor (no.1) from any sense of drawing-room cosiness.

The scherzos also sound more substantial than usual, especially the C minor, which becomes less a Midsummer Night’s Dream dance for gossamer fairies than a brooding Beethovenian drama. The Bachian cross-references in the same work – the opening pedal-pointed praeludium (one readily senses Saint-Saëns waiting in the wings) and the finale’s chorale theme – are also effortlessly absorbed into the music’s rolling textures. The finale of the D minor emphasises horizontal flow over vertical brilliance, allowing the music to segue seamlessly between textural hyperactivity and radiant cantabile without any sense of gear-crashing. In a perfect world, those potentially heart-stopping moments where Mendelssohn’s structural imagination and lyrical genius take full flight might have been indulged still more affectionately. Nevertheless, this is an enormously impressive coupling.