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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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À Trois:
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) Libertango; Tanti Anni Prima; Escualo. Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979) Trois Pièces; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sonata No. 1 BWV 1027 (arr. Holger Reuning); Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Danse Oriental Op. 2 No. 2; Radames GNATTALI (1906-1979) unidentified piece; George BIZET (1838-1875) Carmen Suite (arr. Maxine Neuman); Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Vocalise Op. 34 No. 14
Belmont Trio
rec. 11-13 November 2002. Auferstehungskirche Oberaudorf. DDD
THOROFON CLASSICS CTH2479 [60’20]


The Belmont Trio consists of cellist Maxine Neuman and guitarists Karin Scholz and Peter Ernst. This is an unusual combination so it’s no surprise that only two of the six pieces on this interesting disc should have been written for this instrumentation. However I find that the lack of variety in tonal colour palled before the end of the album.

It opens promisingly with Piazzolla’s Libertango where the infectious, and slightly disturbing, rhythm of the tango grabs the attention. It may be a meaningless myth of national character, but the guitar does seem to suit the ‘Latin temperament’ with its ability to switch, in seconds, from delicate sound to a full-blown violence that seems to threaten the instrument’s very existence. Radamés Gnattali, a Brazilian composer new to me, writes for the combination but his Sonatine of 1970 is fairly anonymous.

The other pieces are arrangements: Bach’s Viola da gamba sonata, pieces for cello and piano by Nadia Boulanger and Rachmaninov, the latter’s Vocalise – for voice and piano – and Bizet’s opera in a reduced form. Arrangements were common in the Baroque era, indeed there is often debate as to what instrumentation Bach was actually writing for, but usually arrangements are simply a result of trying to increase the repertoire for instruments, or combos, that are ill-served by composers. I’m sure the Belmont Trio would rapidly run out of repertoire without the services Holger Reuning, who transcribed the Boulanger, Bach and Rachmaninov’s Danse Oriental. So much for the performers; the listener requires, from new versions, some addition to the original. Otherwise what is its purpose other than novelty? In the case of the Boulanger, the Trois Pièces are welcome with their seductively gorgeous sonorities. However, the mind’s ear did insist on transcribing the guitar part back to the piano (for reasons that remain unclear).

As noted above, it is no novelty to hear Bach pieces in arrangements and this sonata is effectively done with a particularly entrancing Andante. The extracts from Bizet’s Carmen suite, arranged by cellist Neumann, however, seem pointless and the guitars are reduced to some frenetic strumming to try and generate some electricity. The Entr’acte is the most successful movement. The final piece, an anonymous arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, is a peculiar choice as it was originally written for soprano. Unsurprisingly much of the vocal line does not sit happily in the cello’s ‘natural’ range and Neumann’s playing is uncomfortable. Overall, however, the performances are good with a decent recorded sound.

I can recommend this disc to those who enjoy cello and guitar music and to those who are curious to hear this combination. Listened to individually, there is much pleasure to be gained, particularly from the Boulanger, but the sum is less than the parts.

Nick Lacey



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