There are few string trios performed with any regularity in today’s standard chamber music repertoire, and 20th-century examples are likely least abundant. It is perhaps surprising but arguable, however, that Schoenberg’s singular String Trio could be considered a masterpiece of the genre. Paired with Hindemith’s trios from 1924 and 1933, Trio Zimmerman’s release provides a significant insight into 20th-century chamber music.
The recording opens with Hindemith’s First String Trio, in which the young composer fuses his emerging neoclassical sensibilities with an exploration of the contrapuntal and fugal textures of baroque music. Hindemith is said to have preferred his later Second Trio, which showcases some early experimentation in approach to tonality that would define his later career. Both are highly accessible pieces, and Trio Zimmermann delivers them with convincing energy and attention to detail.
The trio applies a command of complexity to a work Schoenberg himself described as “extraordinarily difficult, in fact almost impossible” to perform. A musical depiction of the composer’s near-fatal heart attack in 1946, the String Trio is rigorous and challenging, darting uneasily across moods, textures and forms across its single, 18-minute movement. Trio Zimmermann rewards the listener with this cogent, vivid, and, dare I say it, entertaining performance of a famously strenuous work.