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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio in B flat major Op.21 (1875) [30.38]
Vítězslav NOVÁK (1870-1949)

Trio quasi una balleta Op.27 (1901-02) [18.09]
Otmar MÁCHA (b.1922)

Capricci for piano trio (1985) [13.42]
Artemiss Piano Trio
rec. January 2001, Domovina Studio, Prague
ARCO DIVA UP 0042-1 131 [62.45]

It’s always a pleasure to encounter a new recording of Novák’s Trio quasi una balleta, a work that exudes Straussian warmth. The Artemiss are a trio I’ve reviewed before and, despite their relative youth, have staked out a good place in the discography with their Arco Diva discs. Last time I found their Shostakovich rather reserved. Here they couple the Novák with a relatively recent, though charmingly evocative, work for piano trio by Otmar Mácha and with the first of Dvorak’s trios, the B flat major Op.21.

Back to the Novák. I thought it initially a touch slow but then I checked the Novák Thematic and Bibliographic Catalogue and found they were actually right on the dot when it comes to suggested timings – 18 minutes. They bring out the rolling Dvořák-inspired piano chording and unison string play with commendable resilience and buoyancy and are alert when it comes to those Straussian lyrical gestures toward the end. But in comparison with the old Czech Trio recording of 1970 the newcomers sound rather constrained. They are heavier and less nobly expressive and more episodic at that slightly slower tempo. Partly this is to do with less persuasive phrasing and partly with the older players’s mastery of such things as the staccato passage in the scherzo like section. The greater timbral variety and weight of the Czech Trio really counts here and they find humour where the Artemiss don’t, or can’t. The Artemiss is a far more equable performance in fact than the rival Joachim Trio performance on Naxos (driven through in 16.23 and coupled with Smetana’s Op.15, and Suk’s Op.2 and the Elegie Op.23) though the Joachim go almost to the limit to cohere a work that can splinter in casual hands. As for a choice since the old Czech Trio’s unsurpassed recording is not available a recommendation for them is purely academic. I’ve heard neither the modern Supraphon with the Smetana Trio (with Smetana’s Op.15 and some Suk) or the Academia Trio’s disc, as with the Artemiss coupled with Dvorak’s Op.21.

Maybe the couplings can decide things. The Artemiss Dvořák Trio is like rather too many I’ve reviewed recently; almost apologetic. There’s no misterioso start and phrasing is rather prosaic with little attempt at shaping lines with any great warmth. The playing is not without a certain deft control but I can’t sense much affection for the music or much belief in it. The slow music is coolly done and the rubati in the scherzo sound too practised to convince and I’m afraid their endemic lack of heft shows glaringly in the finale.

Mácha’s little Capricci are warm and athletic, audibly derived from Janáček’s Moravian seedbed. The folksy drive of the last of the four in particular has an infectious and flavoursome vocal drive.

The acoustic in the Domovina is a touch boomy – unusually for this location. All this makes any recommendation hard.

Jonathan Woolf



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