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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No. 1 Op.8 (1923) [12,41]
Piano Trio No. 2 Op.67 (1944) [26.46]
Seven Songs (Alexander Blok) Op.127 (1967) [23.34]
Artemiss Piano Trio
Alžběta Poláčková (soprano)

rec. Lichtenstein Palace (Martinů Hall), Prague, September-November 2004
ARCO DIVA UP 0069-2131 [63.17]

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This coupling, or similar permutations of it, has become increasingly popular over the last few years. The Second Trio and Blok songs featured on a Chandos disc coupled with the Viola Sonata – played, weirdly, on the cello – by the Bekova Sisters Trio. The Blok songs featured Joan Rodgers, one of the most idiomatic of all non-Russian singers of the language but the instrumental support was less than stellar in the accompanying works and the performance of the Trio was not especially convincing. The Stockholm Arts Trio on Naxos 8.553297, however, exactly duplicates this Arco Diva release in presenting both trios and the Blok settings.

With regard to the Op.67 trio the historic catalogue tends to be dominated by the members of the Borodin Quartet, both the Kopelman-Berlinsky-Leonskaja disc on WPCS and the1983 Chandos disc with the Dubinsky-Turovsky-Edlina trio. Further back we have two recordings with Shostakovich himself – the famous 1947 set recorded in Prague with Oistrakh and Sádlo and the slightly earlier Russian made traversal with Tsiganov and Shirinsky joining the composer. The former has been released on CD by Revelation and LYS, and the latter on Revelation. There’s firm competition then in this repertoire even though, disconcertingly, things come and go in this repertoire and what seems likes riches one week seems like a desert the next.

The first thing to say about the young Czech Artemiss trio – I sense a pun at work since all three are young women – is that their recording of the great Second Trio has character. The opening, with its high lying and difficult shifts for the violinist, has certainly sounded more confident and fluent on disc, and in the main the trio is quite reserved and measured. Better this I think than some smeary sentimentalising such as the Bekovas dished up from time to time in their disc. The obverse is a lack of tonal heft and a certain lack of sweep in the opening movement. There’s precise but not over fleet articulation in the second movement though they do tend to colour certain phrases a touch melodramatically. In the third movement passacaglia there’s some leonine piano chording but they keep the string temperature low with few obvious emotive gestures. This is in contrast to Oistrakh et al whose subtle infusions of colour were comprehensive in their responses. Performances of this work tend to shy away from the extremes of tempo one can hear in Shostakovich’s own two recordings; these have only been approached in my experience by the Leonid Kogan-led performance. This is particularly true of the finale. I know Shostakovich told Yakov Milkis to do as he felt in this work but the whole character of the work changes when the bite is as passionate as it is in the 1947 recording with Oistrakh. The more measured approach of the Artemiss Trio is however fairly usual now and I think tends to desensitise the movement.

The early Op.8 Trio is a late romantic work of considerable concision. At shy of thirteen minutes in this performance it registers its gestures with precision and accuracy. The Artemiss threesome bring a cool eye to bear on the more elegiac moments but are good with the romanticised tread, bringing out the lyricism without exaggeration. The Blok songs have been slower to enter the bloodstream of the concert and recorded repertoire. The young soprano Alžběta Poláčková is at her best in the lighter, folk inflected moments of the fourth setting or the earlier parts of the last, a setting of the poem Music. The high tessitura can cause some problems in Gamayun, the second song, though Poláčková manages quite well given that the voice sounds to be quite light in size. She certainly doesn’t have the obvious Wagnerian heft of Anita Soldh on the Naxos disc, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing though she doesn’t as yet possess Vishnevskaya’s command of texture and range.

I hope this sort of coupling will become more popular and that a disc such as this will stay long in the catalogue. We can certainly do without the deletions axe in this repertoire. The performances as I’ve suggested are rather reserved and analytical but the recorded sound is attractive and the notes quite adequate.

Jonathan Woolf

I hope this sort of coupling will become more popular and that a disc such as this will stay long in the catalogue. Performances here are rather reserved and analytical but the recorded sound is attractive ... see Full Review

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