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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1844-1904)
Complete Piano Trios: Trio No. 1 in B flat major, Op.21 [B51] (1875-77) [33.45]
Trio No. 2 for piano, violin and cello, in G minor Op.26 [B.56] (1876) [30.26]
Trio No. 3 in F minor Op. 96 [B130] (1882) [41.35]
Trio No. 4 for piano, violin and cello in E minor Op.90 ‘Dumky’ [B.166] (1883) [31.56]
Macquarie Trio Australia
rec. Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre, October 2003 and February 2004
ABC CLASSICS 476 7176 [64.15 + 73.44]
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Well drilled, attractive and thoughtful though these performances are, they don’t offer much challenge to the established recordings. And in this repertoire, whether you incline to the integral set of the Beaux Arts – rather suave – or the rhythmic intensity of the complete Suk Trio, or points in between such as the Borodin, the Prague Trio or the good Golub-Kaplan-Carr set, you really need a fusion of tonal excellence and native rhythmic drama. By native this doesn’t necessarily mean a Czech ensemble, though when you hear Josef Chuchro’s eloquent cello you’d think so, so wonderfully does he play in the Suk Trio recordings.

The Macquarie Trio Australia is chamber ensemble-in-residence at Macquarie University and their ensemble is practised and excellent, fine tuned after years of music-making. The drawback here is a lack of phrasal elasticity, a compound of straight rather Germanic rhythm and restrained lyric impress. They could be far more rustic and unrestrained in the opening movement of the B flat major. Piano rhythms are not as sharply drawn as they might be and the corporate sonority they cultivate tends to the restrained. The piano rhythms pale beside Jan Panenka’s just-so playing for the Suk Trio. The problems are acute in Scherzos where rhythms never sound completely natural or unforced – the rallentando in this trio’s Allegretto sounds overdone.

They’re not a trio naturally inclined to indulge tempo – good, fast tempo for the G minor Trio’s opening for example – but its Largo sounds emotionally inert, lacking colour and not building to climaxes through use of dynamic variance. Compare this to Josef Suk’s leadership of his trio and hear him really sculpt the apex of the movement with inexorable logic and tensile drama. They take a good clip in the Scherzo but it sounds breathless – which it shouldn’t.

The F minor receives rather a reserved performance – straight, attractive enough on its own terms but rather missing the Bohemian vivacity of the Allegretto grazioso and its corollary, warm wit. And the Dumky lacks timbral intensity and animated weight, that sense of cumulative tension that gives such life to the best readings.

This all sounds like a litany of complaint. In many ways the Macquarie’s readings are admirably straight and unswayed by distractive gesture. Technically they’re inevitably on top of the notes and as I suggested it’s real trio playing, not a collection of outsize individualists failing to conform tonally. The reticence and rhythmic smoothness may well appeal to some listeners bashed too many times by trios out to make points. But in the end I’m afraid you will need other performances. The recording isn’t always of the finest but the Suk Trio offers nourishment of an altogether more exalted level, performances of a special authority and truthfulness. For the set of all four you can’t beat them.

Jonathan Woolf

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