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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in E Flat Major No.1 Op.1 (1794) [30:41]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Dumky Trio, Op.90 (1891) [31:09]
Max Brod Trio: Petr Matěják (violin); Marie Hixová (cello); Kerstin Strassburg (piano)
rec. 5-6 August 2006, Domovina Studio, Prague. DDD
ARCODIVA UP 0098 - 2 131 [62:00]

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As far as I know this is the first release by the Max Brod Trio, formed in 2005 by happenstance, according to the sleeve-notes. It certainly must be followed up very quickly because this trio recording on the Czech label ArcoDiva has a freshness and unity we too seldom hear.

The Beethoven is well represented on record. What the Brods do with it is to show sheer enjoyment with elucidation from the Mozartian and brilliant Allegro [10:40] to the Adagio cantabile [6:50] with its Beethovenian voice and that new sound which Mozart had nearly achieved in the last two symphonies. Beethoven uses the strings like Haydn but when the movement coheres we can hear the ‘Enlightenment’ torch with a more serious light playing through its flames.

At first I felt that the Brods were a bit too quick in this movement but the cohesion of the ensemble served by a recording made in nearly live conditions is just right. The recording balance delivers Beethoven’s true voice in the Scherzo [4:55] with the piano spatially behind the strings but tying the whole concept together.

In the Presto [8:06] the piano is more centred with the violin left and cello right. The Brods convey here a glimpse of what Beethoven would achieve in the big symphonies. This recording of Op.1 isn’t showy, heavy or anything other than what Beethoven composed in his time. It is important because it is truthful.

The Dvorak Dumky wasn’t actually listed as a piano trio by the composer, presumably because it has six movements. The Czech word ‘dumky’ means passing thoughts so the designation of this piece remains as mysterious as titles by Janacek and Martinu. It is the fourth and last published work using piano trio by Dvorak and mixes enigma and sheer fun. The Brods understand this mix relay it to our western ears at least as well as famous antique recordings.

Every movement is played with accuracy, feeling and a sense of an ensemble at ease without being too rehearsed. We get a subtle insight into the work with much use being made of differentiation of texture. This is not a version to listen to in one’s car because nothing must take away from the sounds these musicians make with uncanny togetherness.

Every movement is excellent but the Poco adagio [6:35], Andante [6:21] and the totally magnificent final Lento maestoso [4:35] are the true joys welding the six-movement adventure into precisely that.

The accuracy of the recording might sound a bit dry to listeners used to artificial resonance so I advise delivery via DAC or to top quality headphones to access the full rewards of this release.

We must hope for more from the Max Brod Trio, especially Shostakovich, Ravel, Fauré as well as Martinu’s underrated pieces for the piano trio. Imagine the Brods in the ‘Bergerettes’ at the end of a record of more demanding works!

Great musicians with innate cohesion and sheer expertise relate music as it is. Their love of and sheer fun in making music is outstanding.

Stephen Hall

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