For works that are supposedly neglected, Schumann's piano trios are very well provided with first-class modern recordings. My own collection contains a set with exactly the same music as we find here performed on two Naxos discs (available separately) by the Vienna Brahms Trio, and I gather that Argerich Kremer and Maisky have an offering as well. I can recommend this set from Andsnes and the Tetzlaffs without hesitation or deviation. If I had to do a detailed comparison with its Vienna `rivals' I would be forced into a great deal of repetition, because I find the virtues of both sets to be very much the same.
For many listeners I imagine the choice will come down to the kind of sound they prefer in Schumann. The sound on the set under review is warm and rich. That is not the effect I would prefer in Mendelssohn, or even in Dvorak's Dumky, but it surely works in Schumann. The three instruments have a tad more `definition' on the Naxos discs, but to be sure there's not a lot in it. In terms of the general concept of the pieces there is even less to choose. Tempi are broadly similar, with one group a little faster here but slower there, and phrasing and expression in general differing between the two groups only in minutiae. What is not lacking from any of them is a sense of the affection that this music demands. These players believe in what they are doing. Even in the third trio, dating from the composer's late years when his mental illness was far advanced, our artists here bring so much commitment to the music that I for one was not inclined to fret over any deterioration, real or supposed, in Schumann's inspiration.
As well as the three `official' trios this set in includes another group of Schumann's numerous Fantasiestuecke on the second disc, and six etudes originally written for the outlandish `pedal piano' and arranged by Theodor Kirchner. The liner informs me that Debussy and Bizet also made arrangements of these, but for some reason Kirchner's efforts are selected not only by our artists here but also by the Vienna ensemble. I shall mention in passing, as the Vienna discs can be bought separately, that one of their discs contains the first two trios by themselves, with number 3 and the `miscellaneous' items on the second record. The four Fantasiestuecke are not thought to constitute `a trio' properly so called, and are considered a small collection of individual pieces like the piano works going by the same name.
There is an interesting liner essay by David Threasher, informative literate and enthusiastic, but just slightly hectoring in its final paragraph. I had not known either, until Mr Threasher told me, that piano trios in general do not get the same exposure as other chamber compositions enjoy. This is quite simply not my own experience, at least where Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Ravel are concerned. Schumann seems to have been lucky in this respect too. In the context of Schumann it's also hard not to be reminded by Mr Threasher's last paragraph, in which he contrasts his own views with those of parties who lack ears to hear, of David marching against the philistines. However he shares with the performers the generosity of spirit that is the proper return to Schumann of the same legacy he has bestowed on all of us.
I bought this CD set when it came out and have rarely returned to it. Although I have much admiration for the Tetzlaff's and Andsnes, this trio don't sound as engaged as they might be, rather missing the emotional side that Robert Schumann's music frequently exhibits. Very disappointing.
Much better choices in this repertoire, in my opinion, will be found on the Onyx set from Gringolts, Kouzov and Laul or that from Trio Parnassus on MDG.