SAINT-SAENS: Complete Piano Trios – Trio No. 1 in F Major Op. 18; Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 92 – Alternberg Trio Wien – Challenge multichannel SACD SACC 72111, 64:21 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
This top European string trio, formed in 1994, have made at least nine previous recordings for the Challenge label. Saint-Saens attempted first to write a piano trio when he was only 13, but the first of these two trios dates from the 1860s. The French composer had had a difficult time battling the competition for the Prix de Rome with his orchestral works, and had returned to chamber music. The first Trio doesn’t break any new grounds, but was greatly admired by Ravel and was a model for the next generation of French composers. It has a timeless quality, and the Viennese players deliver it with gusto, without resorting to Viennese schmaltz.
The second trio comes from 1892 and has five movements. It is one of the richest works in the entire trio literature. A large portion of it was composed during St.-Saens’ sojurn in the Canary Islands in that year. Its opening movement is by far the lengthiest of the five, and gets things moving in this complex and very satisfying piano trio. Challenge’s hi-res surround reproduction is without criticism.
– John Sunier