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|Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Trio No.1 in G minor (1892) [14:41]
Anton ARENSKY (1861–1906)
Trio in D minor, op.32 (1894) [26:19]
Trio No.2 in E minor, op.67 (1944) [27:09]
Trio Nota Bene
(Julien Zufferey (violin); Xavier Pignat (cello); Lionel Monnet
(piano)) rec. 17-20 July 2006, Studio Tibor Varga
in Grimisuat, Switzerland. DDD
CLAVES RECORDS 50-2720 [69:45]
Rachmaninov’s 1st Trio is
a student work which was not published until 1947 – four years
after the composer’s death. In one compact movement, divided
into twelve sections, we can already see the fingerprints which
will pervade all Rachmaninov’s mature works. The piano writing
at the outset is unmistakably Rachmaninov, even if the musical
material doesn’t have the gravitas his later Largo movements
will contain, and the string writing takes a little while to
become real string writing. The players start by scrubbing
around, allowing the piano the lead. But once the piece gets
going there’s some fine music and the three instruments are,
almost, treated as equal partners. The material isn’t as memorable
as his later works but the melodies are very singable and Rachmaninov
works out his ideas well, even if one is conscious of the episodic
nature of the piece. As a composition it is more enjoyable,
and satisfying, than some of Rachmaninov’s contemporary works,
such as Prince Rostislav (written a year earlier) or
the Caprice Bohémien,
op.12 (started in the same year as this Trio). A year
later Rachmaninov was to stun the world with his Prelude
in C# minor, which, despite his later misgivings over having
written the work, is a towering masterpiece and one which,
I am sure, helped show him the way forward.
After this, Arensky
seems like a poor relation. Although written after the Rachmaninov
Trio this music looks backwards. As the notes tell us, Arensky
takes Mendelssohn’s fine 1st Trio as his
starting point and it sounds it, but this is not a criticism.
The Trio is blessed with good tunes, has humour - the pizzicato
accompaniment to the main section of the scherzo: very Midsummer
Night’s Dream - as well as pathos and tenderness (the Elegia).
All the material is well worked out in the classical manner,
but, and this is a big but, because of the company it keeps
on this disk it seems very small beer indeed. Let me stress
that it is a lovely piece and certainly deserves to be heard.
However it would sit more comfortably within a disk of classically-orientated
works rather than this hothouse of late-romanticism - because
Rachmaninov is already inhabiting this area - and modernism.
The Shostakovich 2nd Trio is
one of the glories of the piano trio repertoire. A very personal
work, written in memory of his dear friend Ivan Sollertinsky,
Shostakovich has written one of his most intense chamber works.
The Trio Nota Bene rise to the challenge with flying colours.
Starting with ethereal harmonics on the cello, the first movement
is quite straightforward, making its way through a fairly simple
rondo form. The succeeding scherzo is wild and frenetic, the
slow movement a passacaglia with the strings weaving magical
lines over the ever repeating bass of the piano. It is the
finale which is the most extreme and horrifying. Shostakovich
started work on the finale as news was announced of the liberation of the Nazi death
camps, including Treblinka. The composer was appalled to learn
that the SS Guards made their victims dance beside their own
graves before shooting them. He created a programmatic image
of it, the simple dance becoming wilder and wilder, more and
more desperate. In his own recording made in Prague in 1947
with David Oistrakh and Milos Sadlo, (Symposium
SYMPCD 1314 – coupled with other first recordings of Shostakovich’s
works) Shostakovich doesn’t hold back in this music,
I cannot overstate just how important this recording is. That
celebrity trio give a fierce and disturbed performance which
the Trio Nota Bene comes very close to matching - with what
wild abandon do they convey the dance of death! What a performance!
I’ve heard the Trio Nota Bene many times on the radio in
live performance but this, their debut recording for Claves,
is the first time I have encountered them on disk. It’s an
auspicious debut. The playing is excellent. The musicians
obviously fully understand each other and the give-and-take
of the ensemble playing is magnificent. Recording and notes
match the performances superbly. The disc is presented in
a colourful and attractive sleeve which opens up into three
parts the booklet being attached to the inner cover.
There is so much to enjoy here that you’ll find yourself
returning to this disk again and again and looking forward
to the Trio’s next recording.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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