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The Australian Trio
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)

Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat Op. 12 (pub 1802)
Piano Trio No. 4 in G Op. 65 (1814-15)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Piano Trio No. 1 in F Op. 18 (1863)
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)

Piano Trio in G minor Op. 15 (1855)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Piano Trio No. 1 in G (1880)
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)

Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor Op. 32 (1894)
The Australian Trio
Recorded in the Eugene Goossens Hall of ABC’s Ultimo Centre
ABC CLASSICS 476 123-1 [2 CDs 150.54]

 

I like the programme of this ABC double. It makes inter-connections between composers and charts an enlightened path through the chosen repertoire that is not so common a one that we should pass it by. The Australian Trio are particularly convincing exponents of Hummel whose First and Fourth Trios they essay. Both are in three movements and owe much to Mozart but both strike individual sparks as Hummel does so often and so attractively and impressively. The elegant gentility of the opening movement of the Op. 65 is conveyed with commensurate elevation by the Australians who prove masters of the deft felicities of the Andante grazioso. They don’t make too much of the more emotive moments and apply discreet vibrato to the more expressive contours and corners of the music. The finale is deft and fanciful. The Op. 12 Trio shares many of the characteristics of the later work. The elegant Mozartian opening movement has fine moments for the cello and violin, both taken with aplomb. Could the trio have taken it at just a more agitato tempo, as marked? The Australian Trio captures the elegance and stylishness of these works with care and discretion.

The Saint-Saëns trio is bold and ebullient with strongly idiomatic writing (of course. from this well-known pianist) for the piano. It’s lyrical and clearly designed and full of wit and humour. They take the Andante at a good flowing tempo, with amusing rhythmic catches; they maintain an attractive ensemble and manage to bring out the veiled tristesse as well, which they do with imaginative discretion. They deadpan the rhythmic vivacity of the Scherzo and I particularly liked the way Michael Brimer explores the rippling piano figuration at the start of the finale. The Australian Trio certainly doesn’t go in for outsize gestures and obvious point making – thankfully – because it allows them to point the frolicsome wit at the end of the trio all the more convincingly. The first disc concludes with the Smetana, his tragic G minor. They play it with suitable drama but one that’s not over scaled. The elegy is presented with explicit understanding but the passagework is clean whilst they are characterfully inflective in the second movement. I enjoyed the grim exchanges by the strings in the finale and the intoning piano lines. It’s an attractive performance all round.

The early Debussy Trio plays into this trio’s hands because they are very good at characterful whimsy (Scherzo-Intermezzo) as indeed they are at style (Andantino). I like their vitality in the finale. Neither Donald Hazelwood, the violinist nor cellist Catherine Hewgill has a particularly big tone (which matters more in the Smetana than the Debussy) but they deploy them artfully. Arensky’s Trio is also a lament and it’s full of energy and lyricism. One can note Hazelwood’s impressive intimacy of tonal expression at such moments in the opening movement and the way they collectively sustain the good and flexible tempo in the Elegia third movement.

The notes are thoughtful and full of good things and sound quality, as is usually the case from this source, is attractive and warm. The Australian Trio will win friends with this handy double.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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