Johannes Brahms was the ultimate perfectionist. He spent more than two decades writing his first symphony. He abandoned or destroyed many other works in progress when they didn’t meet his standards.
But there’s one instance of Brahms revising a piece he’d already published. The composer wrote a lively trio for piano, violin and cello -- and revised it 35 years later. The second version is the one you almost always hear today.
Three musicians recently set out to record the original version -- the one Brahms tossed aside. They captured it on the new disc "For The Love of Brahms," a CPR Classical featured new release for November.
Violinist Joshua Bell, who played on the record, said he and his collaborators discovered music that’s melodic, intense and worth saving from obscurity.
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“It’s something I really wanted to get out there," Bell said. "It’s fascinating because it’s so different from the B major trio which most people are used to hearing."
The two versions of the piano trio are almost different pieces at times. The individual movements often start at the same point, but veer off into different places.
Bell -- one of the world’s respected violinists -- worked on the new record with two friends who are also renowned soloists: cellist Stephen Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk.
Denk is probably as famous for his playing as he is for his thoughtful writing in magazines like the New Yorker. Bell says having Denk around led to some spirited debates as they rehearsed the trio.
“I enjoy that -- the arguing, trying to express our views about how the piece should be," Bell said. "He’s very good at that, so that’s one of the reasons I enjoy playing with him.”
Bell was excited to share the music with the world when we spoke with him before the album’s release, while he was in Vail for three concerts this summer.
Even though he’s one of the world’s most famous violinists, the idea of a definitive recording can make him a little nervous. He says working on the music excites him more than listening back.
When Bell and his collaborators work to get every detail right, they’re in good company. Sometimes a little perfectionism leads to great music -- from Brahms, and from the musicians who love his work.