Wolf-Ferrari’s Piano Trios

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

The two piano trios that Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) composed early in his career display inventiveness and communicative vibrancy comparable to what you find in his operas and symphonic works. The Op. 5 Trio reveals the 20-year-old composer as a confident craftsperson: note the quirky juxtapositions of key and abruptly offhand conclusion in the Scherzo’s main section, and the whimsical discursiveness of the Finale that might be described as the lovechild of Schubert and Fauré.

The Op. 7 F-sharp minor Trio journeys into more ambitious terrain with an expansive, brooding opening movement (lots of César Franckian harmonic unrest) that clocks in at nearly 20 minutes. By contrast, the subsequent two movements seem to have wandered in from another composition, although they are lovely in and of themselves.

Three previous recordings containing both trios are “out-of-print” on physical CD, which means that the Trio Archè presently has the field to itself. The Op. 7 Largo movement stands out for Dario Destefano’s eloquently sustained handling of his long opening solo, and for the rich, viola-like timbre he conveys above the staff. Note also the same work’s finale and the firm dovetailing with which the strings and piano shape the imitative passages.

My main quibbles concern the overly close miking of the piano, resulting in a rather dry and “pingy” sonority, plus the ensemble’s relatively square approach to the Op. 5 first movement’s surging crescendos that the Trio Di Venezia (Nuova Era, available via download only) serve up with more fluidity and passion. The musically and sonically superior Munich Piano Trio versions (MDG) were released in a two-CD set that included the composer’s delightful Piano Quintet performed by the Leopold Quartet and pianist Wolfgang Sawallisch on scintillating form; a pity that this reference-worthy release is not easy to source. Recommended with caveats.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Munich Piano Trio (MDG); Trio Di Venezia (Nuova Era)

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