Piano Trio No.2 in b flat minor, Op.5
This piano trio was hailed as a masterpiece from the day it was premiered in 1850 and there is no reason to change that assessment today. Volkmann's piano trios were held in the highest esteem not only by the famous, but also by the general musical public of his time. They were regularly mentioned in the same breath as with those of Beethoven. High praise indeed for a composer whose works today are nearly all out of print. It was well-known that when Liszt had a stranger visiting him, for whom he wished to provide a superlative enjoyment, he played this piano trio with Joachim the famous violinist and the cellist Cossmann.
Friedrich Robert Volkmann (1815-1883) was almost an exact contemporary of Wagner, however, he certainly did not tread the same path as his fellow countryman. He forever kept Beethoven in front of him as his model although he was later to fall under the sway of Mendelssohn and then Schumann. Though born and schooled in Germany, Volkmann, after a brief stint in Prague, got a job in Pest in 1841 and made friends among the large German community there. Though he went to Vienna in 1854, he missed Pest and moved back in 1858 where he remained for the rest of his life.
During his lifetime, Volkmannís music was was not only considered the equal of that of Schumann or Mendelssohn, but also more advanced. It was commonly recognized that it was the link between Schumann and Brahms. Ars Longa, vita brevis, as the saying goes, but alas for Volkmann, it was not only vita brevis but also fama brevis!
Piano Trio No.2 was published in 1852 at the same time as his first trio. It was called a "New Path" because of its highly unusual structure, which represented a clear break from the standard four movement trios of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann. The format of the trio is not easy to describe. It has been called a multi-part fantasy with each movement having two and sometimes three sub-movements. The opening movement, entitled Largo, is an example of this. It is a long introduction, which leads to a genial, seemingly unrelated section. The third theme begins as a pleading melody which rises to a tremendous dramatic climax. (our sound-bite gives part of the Largo and all of the third theme) The second movement is entitled Ritornell. A ritornell is usually an instrumental interlude in a vocal work. Here, Volkmann seems to have used the title in place of intermezzo. The tuneful music is mellow and relaxed. The main theme of the finale, Allegro con brio, is both forceful and exciting.
Here is yet another masterwork, the equal of the famous trios from the same period, unjustly shoved aside. Players who make its acquaintance will be highly rewarded.