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Jonathan Woolf
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Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Piano Trio No. 1 in G Minor (1892) [14:41]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 32 (1894) [26:19]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor Op. 67 (1944) [27:09]
Trio Nota Bene: (Lionel Monnet (piano); Julien Zufferey (violin); Xavier Pignat (cello))
rec. Studio Tibor Varga, Grimisuat, July 2006
CLAVES 50-2720 [69:45]

The young Trio Nota Bene embark on a trio of trios of varying stylistic imperatives but decidedly limited geographical focus. That focus is a Russian triptych and embraces the oft-recorded Op.67 trio of Shostakovich, the big D minor Arensky, less recorded but certainly not ignored, and the early G minor one-movement work by Rachmaninoff.
This last is a work that as often as not gets coupled with the altogether different Tchaikovsky A minor Op.50 – the Abegg on Tacet and the Barbican on Guild for example do so – or with both Rachmaninoff Trios as the Beaux Arts (Philips 420175) and the Borodin (Chandos CHAN 8341) chose to do. So to mix and match in the way the Nota Bene does is welcome and aerates the discography nicely. Theirs is an attractive performance, vehement when necessary, reflective, but without either quite the weight of their best competitors or the ultimate in expressive control throughout its not-quite fifteen minute span.
The Arensky trio has been recorded by a plethora of groups; the Borodin have coupled both trios together or have coupled Op.32 with the Glinka (both Chandos); the Nash Ensemble’s recording was coupled imaginatively but complicatedly with the Rimsky Wind Quintet (CRD). The Escher twinned it with the Korngold on Challenge, the Dussek with its Arensky twin on Meridian whilst the Australian Trio have corralled it in a big four CD set of trios on ABC. There’s a Naxos traversal as well coupled with the A minor Tchaikovsky and played by Vovka Ashkenazy, Richard Stamper and Christine Jackson. But my touchstone has always been the old Henri Temianka-Eileen Joyce, Antoni Sala Parlophone 78 set transferred by Biddulph, a reading of polish and drama seldom matched on disc. Attractive though the newcomers are they really can’t compare with the capricious quickness of the pre-war performance, its generosity of feeling and its incise rhythmic profile putting most recent performances very much to shame. There’s a rather under-inflected and reserved feel to the Nota Bene’s performance that doesn’t quite do the work justice.
I shall give up listing viable alternatives for the Shostakovich Trio, since there are so many, beyond even the composer’s own famous Oistrakh-Sádlo 78 set made in Prague and reissued often enough. And as with both companion trios we find the Nota Bene is a rather cool-as-a-cucumber outfit, unwilling as yet to risk much tonal bloom and variety. It tends to under-play the more grotesque qualities of the trio, and objectively speaking it sounds less emotively committed than, say, the Nash Ensemble, and they’re not themselves necessarily always the most heart-on-sleeve proponents.
So if you’re looking for sane, straight-down-the middle, tonally congruous and clean-cut performances of these three trios the Nota Bene offer just such performances. But if you want more – and I think you will want more - you will want to look further afield.
Jonathan Woolf


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