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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor (1892) [12:39]
Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor, Op. 9 (1893, rev. 1907) [44:44]
Valeri Grohovski (piano); Eduard Wulfson (violin); Dmitry Yablonsky (cello)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 6-7 September 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557423 [57:23]

This all-Rachmaninov disc will doubtless fill a hole in many a collection.  The playing is accomplished, the music attractive and, at the Naxos price, this is a bargain.

The rhythmic motif from the violin and cello that opens Rachmaninov's first piano trio could introduce a chamber work by John Adams, but from the piano's first entry there is no mistaking the composer of this piece.  Even as a young composer, Rachmaninov's was an individual voice.  Certainly his melodic gifts are very much on show here.  The single sonata-form movement is well constructed, and is pleasing without being profound.  It is perhaps a little too serious in tone for its material and development and the writing for strings is a tad under-developed as compared to the more robust piano part.  Nonetheless, there is a lot of characteristically beautiful melody here and this youthful work is worth hearing.  Grohovski, Wulfson and Yablonsky certainly respond to it with full commitment and may almost have you believing that it is a neglected masterpiece. 

The second piano trio, though written only a year later, is more mature in style and utterance.  It is modelled closely on Tchaikovsky's A Minor piano trio.  Just as the older composer's trio was dedicated “to the memory of a great artist”, Nikolai Rubinstein, Rachmaninov's trio is dedicated to Tchaikovsky, whose death inspired its composition and for whom it is an elegy.  Grohovski, Yablonsky and Wulfson are even more impressive in this piece than in its predecessor, engaging more naturally with its all-pervading melancholy.  They are tender in the first movement's slow introductory lament, but declamatory in the same movement's wildly despairing sections and the vigorous passages in the finale.  Again, the string writing is not the most sophisticated – comparison with the Tchaikovsky trio shows this immediately – and the piano carries the piece even more than usual.  Fortunately, Grohovski is attuned to the drama of the piece.  His playing is suitably dreamy and his use of rubato well-judged.

The second movement starts with a nostalgic theme stated by solo piano, shifting the mood from the pain of loss to a gentle nostalgia.  The references to Tchaikovsky are compounded in this movement, as Rachmaninov uses this theme as the basis for a set of variations, just as the second movement of Tchaikovsky's trio is a set of variations on a very similar theme.  As pointed out by Keith Anderson in his excellent liner-notes, Rachmaninov's theme also resembles a melody from his early tone poem, The Rock (also known as The Cliff or The Crag), which Tchaikovsky had promised to conduct in concert.  Grohovski's generous pedalling and rubato make the second variation for solo piano something to savour, but there could perhaps be more snap to the third variation that follows.

The short final movement would also benefit from a touch more fire.  Grohovski's attack here seems a little soft-edged, though once the movement is well under way all three musicians are emphatic in their collective outpouring of grief, as the mood set up by the opening movement returns. 

Throughout the disc, the trio soloists play with commitment.  They are alive to the drama of the music and conscious of dynamics.  Yablonsky's cello tone is rich and creamy and Grohovski swoons at the keyboard, but not too much.  Wulfson also projects well, but in places – in particular in the first trio and the variation movement of the second trio – his insistent vibrato is a tad too heavy and his tone acquires a rough edge.  This latter quibble is not fatal, but the consequence is that he does not blend with his colleagues quite as well as he might have, though the trio's ensemble is consistently crisp. 

The quality of the recording is high, though for some reason the cello is overwhelmed by the violin and piano in the tuttis of the second trio's first movement.

This disc is full of beautiful music, beautifully played and recorded.  If you do not know these pieces, here is your introduction. 

Tim Perry

see also Review by Terry Barfoot




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