Altenberg Trio Wien

Complete Piano Trios

Format: SACD
Label: Challenge Classics
UPC: 0608917211122
Catnr: SACC 72111
Release date: 30 September 2004
Notify when available
Notify when available
Challenge Classics
Catalogue number
SACC 72111
Release date
30 September 2004

About the album

Camille Saint-Saëns composed these two piano trios some 30 years apart. They could hardly be more different. The First Trio is a model of jubilance, youthful optimism, and sheer joy. The quick, nimble Scherzo darts about with mischievous frivolity while even Andante (in A minor) is far from a brooding affair. The Second Trio is a much darker, solemn, ominous contribution. Saint-Saëns even breaks the mold of the traditional four-movement trio and adds an uncustomary fifth movement. Both trios place great demands on the technical abilities, ensemble cohesiveness, attention to detail, and sound quality of its performers.

C. Saint-Saëns - ​Piano Trio No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18

Saint-Saëns worked on his first piano trio in the period from summer 1863 to October 1864.

During the third quarter of the 19th century, when the French only seemed interested in opera, Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), almost single-handedly, attempted to make the case for chamber music, which so many of his countrymen continued to think of as something German. Although famous for his larger orchestral works and instrumental concertos, he devoted a great deal of time and effort to writing chamber music. Not only does he have two string quartets to his credit, but he also wrote three works for piano trio, a serenade for piano, organ, violin and viola ( or cello), a quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello, a Caprice on Danish & Russian Aires for piano, flute, oboe and B flat clarinet and his Septet for piano, trumpet, two violins, viola, cello and bass.

Although the First Piano Trio is a relatively early work, by the time he came to write it in 1863, Saint-Saëns already had composed a piano quintet, a piano trio suite and a serenade for violin, viola and organ. The well-respected critic and savant, Emile Baumann, writes of Piano Trio No.1 as follows:
"The First Piano Trio is one of the most inspired moments of his youth. The opening theme of the first movement, Allegro vivace, expresses the joy of adventure. Its alluring gaiety communicates itself to the cello and permeates passages that are heavy with foreboding as well as those that are buoyant. The following Andante is a model of plastic and expressive melody. The main theme unfolds like an ancient ballad while the conclusion is filled with an intimate tenderness. The sprightly third movement, Scherzo, is filled with humor and wonderful cross rhythms and pizzicato effects. Much of the same buoyant spirit of the first movement is also to be found in the boisterous finale, Allegro."

C. Saint-Saëns - Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 92

Saint-Saëns worked on his second piano trio from February to May 1892. It is one of the great masterpieces of the piano trio literature.

"I am working quietly away at a trio which I hope will drive to despair all those unlucky enough to hear it. I shall need the whole summer to perpetrate this atrocity, one must have a little fun somehow." So wrote Saint-Saëns to a close friend in the spring of 1892 about what has often been called the greatest French piano trio of the 19th century. The truth was that Saint-Saëns worked long and hard on this work, putting, as one critic noted, all of his accumulated experience and wisdom into this it.

Piano Trio No.2 begins with an Allegro non troppo which is dark and ominous. It is a leisurely theme which takes its time as it builds tension toward an inevitable climax. When the climax is finally reached, powerful torrents of emotion are released. A second theme, a long time in coming, is more lyrical and optimistic. The chirpy theme of the second movement, Allegretto, begins like an inconsequential salon piece, but suddenly violent bursts of emotion interrupt it, and then a hectic, almost frantic melody, racing helter skelter, follows. When the main theme to the third and middle movement, Andante con moto, is briefly stated by the piano, it sounds almost inane, but as the strings enter, immediately the music exudes a strong perfume of romance, which over time reaches considerable emotional heights. The Grazioso poco allegretto which follows, though it starts with a dark chord, is light and graceful. The finale, Allegro, begins quietly and in a sinister vein. A canonic fugue is briefly begun and interrupted as the music skyrockets forward with tremendous élan.
Twee totaal verschillende pianotrio’s van een en dezelfde componist
Het Altenberg Trio Wien speelt in deze opname 2 pianotrio’s van Charles Camille Saint-Saëns. De componist schreef de trio's met een tussenpoos van ruim 30 jaar. Ze hadden dan ook niet meer van elkaar kunnen verschillen. De één uitbundig, met jeugdig optimisme en pure vreugde. De ander somber en onheilspellend, overigens een meesterwerk. Eén overeenkomst hebben de stukken wel: ze doen een groot beroep op de technische vaardigheden, de samenhang, de aandacht voor details en de geluidskwaliteit van de uitvoerenden. En dat is het Altenberg Trio wel toevertrouwd.

Pianotrio's zijn muziekstukken, speciaal gecomponeerd voor een kamermuziekensemble, dat bestaat uit een piano en 2 andere instrumenten, meestal viool en cello. Het Altenberg Trio Wien is zo'n ensemble, opgericht in Wenen in1994 en in Europa een van de bekendste piano trio's van deze tijd.

Charles Camille Saint-Saëns, in 1835 geboren in Parijs, was enig kind. Zijn vader overleed vlak voor zijn geboorte. Hij werd door zijn moeder en oudtante opgevoed. Zij zorgden voor een omgeving, waarin hij al jong met muziek en literatuur opgroeide. Camille blijkt een wonderkind, 4 jaar en hij schreef zijn eerste muziek. Al vroeg volgde hij piano- en orgelles, las Latijn en was geïnteresseerd in natuurwetenschappen. Met 11 jaar trad hij op met pianosonates van Ludwig van Beethoven en op zijn 13e werd hij zonder pardon aangenomen op het conservatorium van Parijs. 18 jaar was Saint-Saëns toen hij zijn 1e symfonie schreef. Na gelukkige beginjaren keerde het tij en werd Saint-Saëns na een roerig leven op middelbare leeftijd depressief. Alleen zijn 2 honden en maatje Gabriel Fauré hielden hem gezelschap. Toch bleef hij componeren. Zijn verre reizen inspireerden de componist van Het Carnaval der dieren (1886), waarschijnlijk zijn bekendste werk. Hoewel op het laatst buiten Frankrijk mateloos populair, bekritiseerden Franse collega's Saint-Saëns voortdurend. Wellicht ingegeven door zijn onaangename karakter. Saint-Saëns stierf in 1921 in Algiers.


Since its „official“ debut during the Salzburg Mozart Week (January 1994), the Altenberg Trio Wien – one of the few full-time piano trios in the world of chamber music – has in far more than 1000 performances earned the reputation of one of the most daring and consistent ensembles in this category: its repertory comprises – in addition to a large number of works from directly related fields (piano quartets & quintets, duos, triple concertos, vocal chamber music) near to 200 piano trios, among them many pieces which the Altenberg Trio suggested and first performed itself.
Simultaneously with its foundation, the ensemble became trio in resi- dence of Vienna´s “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” (Society of Music Friends), annually performing a cycle in the Brahms Saal for that society.

Among the Altenberg Trio´s other regular activities are the International Brahms Festival at Muerzzuschlag (Austria), whose artistic director Claus- Christian Schuster was for 15 years, and the Accademia di Musica di
Pinerolo (Piemont), where the trio offers monthly master classes for
young ensembles. At the conferral of the Robert Schumann Award of the City of Zwickau in 1999, the Altenberg Trio succeeded in continuing the
“Austrian” tradition of this award (winner 1997: Nikolaus Harnoncourt,
winner 2002: Alfred Brendel); the immediate reason for its success was
the recording of all Schumann piano trios which had just been released.
The Altenberg Trio´s subsequent recording (Ives/Copland/Bernstein)
in April 2000 won the Edison Award in Amsterdam.



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