Some compositions are so good that we wish we could have two of the same. The early Piano Trio in B major op. 8 by Johannes Brahms is one such work and one of music history’s greatest cases of good fortune: it has been transmitted in two versions. As we know, the overly self-critical Brahms otherwise completely destroyed all the early versions, sketches, and drafts of his works. The Vienna Piano Trio’s new Brahms edition in superior Super Audio sound on MDG opens with the late version of this work from the composer’s youth and then confronts it with his mature op. 87.
The late version captivates the listener with a clearly concentrated design distinguishing it from the romantic and stormy first version. Brahms commented on the revision with his customary malice in a letter to his publisher: “ ... it is true that the old one is bad, but I cannot claim that the new one is good!” Nonetheless, the initial theme ranks with the most beautiful music the young composer ever committed to paper, and the experienced old master then apparently did not regard the scherzo as all that bad: he kept it, practically without any changes at all.
Since Joseph Joachim could not bear to have to wait too long for his first entry, the young Brahms composed a couple of additional commenting inserts for the violin. Later he no longer respected artist’s sensibilities of this sort, and so the initial cello theme now is allowed to display its splendor without at all being disturbed. Thirty years then passed before Brahms began a second piano trio; in the supposedly simple key of C major, op. 87 exposes deep abysses repeatedly followed by magnificent radiance.
The piano part is of extraordinary difficulty – which is hardly surprising since the gifted pianist wrote it around the time of his Piano Concerto No. 2. The haunting scherzo in particular has what it takes and is a rewarding task for Stefan Mendl, who with his Viennese colleagues celebrates the spirit world on the venerable “Manfred Bürki” Steinway D – absolutely spine-tingling!