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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Trio for piano, violin and cello in A Minor (1914) [26.29]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Trio for piano, violin and cello in G Minor, Op. 3 (1881) [33.06]
Pascal Rogé, piano; Mie Kobayashi, violin; Yoko Hasegawa, cello
rec. Salle de Musique, La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, June 2002. DDD

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The independent designer record label Onyx was launched this autumn with recordings from renowned performers: soprano Barbara Bonney, the Borodin String Quartet, pianist Pascal Rogé and violinist Viktoria Mullova. The notion of starting a privately funded record label in today’s intensely competitive and contracting classical music industry would seem at first sight to have the potential for success of arranging package tours to post-Sadaam Baghdad. That said, the first Onyx release that I reviewed was Mullova’s set of five Vivaldi violin concertos which became one of my ‘Records of the Year’.

The present recording is the second release in the ‘Rogé Edition’ following swiftly on the heels his highly acclaimed Debussy Préludes, (Onyx 4004). This recording marks the tenth anniversary of Rogé’s chamber music partnership with Kobayashi and Hasegawa, both renowned in Japan and having toured widely with Rogé. The timing of this release just about ties in with the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Ernest Chausson’s birth, a pure coincidence I’m sure. It’s an event that seems to have been virtually ignored in 2005.

Ravel’s highly acclaimed Trio was written in the summer of 1914 at his Basque retreat of Saint Jean de Luz, whist the composer was on holiday with friends. It has been said that it betrays the looming Great War, but Ravel could not have known the extent of the horrors that were in store. Musicologist David Ewen described the score as, “a work reduced to essentials ... a masterpiece of form and technique in its avoidance of all superfluous details.” A highly impressed biographer Alexis Roland-Manuel wrote that it is “at once serious and impassioned, in which each instalment is clearly outlined in the enhancement of melody.”

Rogé, Kobayashi and Hasegawa expertly and lovingly lay bare its suggestion of Spanish themes that hauntingly explore the contrasts of sonorities between piano and strings. The impressive lengthy opening movement with its ingenuity of structure and originality of metrical design is given an interpretation that is dreamy and feminine, redolent of the tentative beginnings of a heady romance. The second movement is a scherzo called a pantoum, after a Malayan poem that calls for two independent thoughts moving in parallel lines. The three players cultivate a mood of high excitement that is both energetic and nervy. In the passacaille the opposing sonorities of the piano and strings are expertly drawn by Rogé and friends with a consummate lightness that reminds one of the carefree air of a daydream. In the impressive final movement, brilliant and quasi-orchestral in conception, Rogé’s trio bring out the dazzling textures with precision and splendid understanding.

Unlike the Piano Trio of the mature Ravel, that of his predecessor Chausson is the work of a relative beginner. Chausson composed his underrated trio, which was his first chamber work, in 1881 after a period of study with Massenet and Franck.

The thickly scored and extended opening movement with its abrupt dynamic changes and increasing intensity is confidently interpreted with relentless momentum and deep affection. Performed with vivaciousness and considerable wit the second movement is a short and delightful, if rather four-square, scherzo. The third movement marked assez lent rather to the characteristic elegiac style of the opening movement and is given a sure and characterful performance. The closing movement opens with deceptive simplicity and but quickly darkens becoming more complex. Rogé and friends perform this fascinating movement with a robust splendour that is ardent and authoritative.

This Onyx release proves to be one of the finest available interpretations of both scores. In the Ravel I would not wish to be without the 2001 Swiss recording from Renaud and Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley on Virgin Classics 545492 2 9, c/w the sonatas for violin and piano, for violin and cello and for violin and piano ‘Sonate posthume’. I also admire the Beaux Arts interpretations on Philips 454 1342-2, c/w String Quartet and Sonata for violin and piano and also the Florestan Trio on Hyperion CDA 67114, c/w Fauré Piano Trio, Op. 120 and Debussy Piano Trio. In the far less recorded Chausson Trio a favourite account from my collection is from Pascal Devoyon, Philippe Graffin and Gary Hoffman on Hyperion CDA 67028, c/w Poème, Op 25, Andante et Allegro for clarinet and piano and Pièce for cello and piano, Op. 39.

Onyx are to be congratulated for this well presented release. The engineers provide an impressive sound quality and the booklet notes from the uncredited writer are interesting and informative. At just over an hour in duration this is not over-generous by today’s standards and by my estimation could easily have accommodated another work, for example the Fauré Piano Trio, Op. 120.

Rogé, Kobayashi and Hasegawa are outstanding advocates for these wonderful French scores. I offer an enthusiastic recommendation for this superb Onyx release.

Michael Cookson

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