A notable debut from a period-aware trio

Trio Ilona: Schumann

The Strad Issue: June 2024

Description: A notable debut from a period-aware trio

Musicians: Trio Ilona

Works: Schumann: Piano Trios: no.1 in D minor, no.2 in F major

Catalogue number: DEUX-ELLES DXL1197

Schumann’s piano trios long remained hidden gems of his output. Over the past quarter of a century or so, though, they have belatedly moved to the heart of the trio repertoire. Period-instrument players also approached them warily until the supergroup of Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov made benchmark recordings a decade ago.

Trio Ilona has chosen the first two trios for its recording debut. The piano played by Yi-Heng Yang is an appropriate 1830 Streicher but the booklet doesn’t reveal the identities of Ravenna Lipchik’s violin or Kate Bennett Wadsworth’s cello. Techniques, though, are audibly well-researched and discussed in the booklet, and include a range of expressive string portamentos and the admission of those ‘ghost notes’ that emanate during the changing of hand position. While the Streicher is a vibrant, resonant presence, the effect is of the string instruments’ individual voices being coaxed rather than declaimed. It’s fascinating, and if Faust et al remain perhaps the more imaginative and responsive interpreters, there is much to be gained from the Ilona’s occasionally less polished traversal.

The ensemble takes its name from Ilona Eibenschütz, a pupil of Clara Schumann’s who lived until 1967, representing a real link from the age of recording to the height of the Romantic era. The studio is Robert King’s Alpheton New Maltings in the Suffolk countryside, which easily accommodates the Streicher but is kinder to the cello than to the violin, most noticeably in the First Trio. It will be fascinating to hear the ways in which the Ilona’s approach illuminates the elusive Third Trio.