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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Bergerettes - Five pieces for violin, cello and piano (1939) [21:46]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Trio for Violin, cello & piano (1985-1992) [23:45]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Trio No. 1 for Violin, Cello and Piano (1923) [12:09]
Puella Trio: Terezie Fialová (piano); Eva Karová (violin); Markéta Vrbková (cello)
rec. 10-11 August 2007, Josef Dorovsky Hall, Convent of the Brothers of Mercy, Brno.
ARCODIVA UP 0103-2 131 [57:58]


Martinů’s Bergerettes comes from that edgy period as Europe stood on the brink of war, but the mood of the work is fairly typical of this composer’s idiom. There are a few whiffs of that Parisian jazz feel, but one has more the feeling of a composer flexing his powers through well-trodden though by no means exhausted paths, revelling in writing for instruments with which he was most familiar, or for which he had some of the greatest affection. Punchy rhythms characterise many of the five movements, and the tempo only drops below a variant on Allegro in two, with an eloquent Andantino standing central and expressing the deepest emotions in the piece, and the final Moderato feeling like a slowed-down allegro in its own right, with upward ‘tango’ violin sweeps in the opening and driving repetitions from the piano forming a large part of the material. I am a huge fan of this composer, and this is top drawer Martinů. The young Puella Trio play it as if they were born for this kind of music.

Alfred Schnittke re-arranged his 1985 String Trio for the version here in 1992, and the Puella Trio are credited with giving the Czech premiere recording of this version of the work. Angular dissonances juxtaposed with references to Russian Orthodox chant make this a work which somehow has a foot in several camps – most certainly in that of a modernist stretching of conventional boundaries of sonority, structure and melodic shape, but also in a that of a timeless world where music is part of a continuous line of history, with plenty of romanticism laid on for good measure. These means of expression are given two movements, a more gritty first Moderato, and the second Adagio, which is laden with almost unbearable melancholy. The Puella Trio does very well in this music, even if I get the feeling that they are marginally less comfortable with it than with the Bergerettes. There is also a funny feeling about the opening, where the piano seems to have drifted away from the microphones and gone a little out of tune when compared with the Martinů. This is only a minor blemish however, and things soon fall into place, even if the piano is a bit twangy in the upper registers throughout. Collectors who know and love the string-only version of this piece will want this later addition to the Schnittke catalogue, even though the work’s impact is altered rather than genuinely enhanced by the arrangement.

Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.1 Op.8 is in a late romantic idiom, being one of the pieces the composer wrote while still a student. In fact, Shostakovich never even finished the work, and it was left to Boris Tischenko, one of his students, to put in the last 16 bars. The character is sometimes close to the slow movement of the Symphony No.1 which is only two opus numbers later, so this is hardly surprising. The piece is in fact something of a patchwork, with several sections running on through its single movement – as such it is a fascinating glimpse into the young Shostakovich’s formative probing into serious composition – an eclectic mix of borrowed styles and genres, and the occasional flash of the unique voice which was to emerge all too soon.

Recordings of Martinů’s Bergerettes are surprisingly thin on the ground, as are those – somewhat less surprisingly – of Shostakovich’s youthfully green Op.8. I hunted through my entire collection, but regret to inform readers that I could find no comparison recordings – not even being able to offer alternatives by trawling through the current Supraphon catalogue. The Schnittke is fairly well represented, but with more choices in the earlier version for string trio as far as I can tell. The booklet notes are informative but a bit florid here and there, with some breathtakingly long sentences and a few charming typos, such as mention of Shostakovich’s ‘Fist Symphony’. All things considered, this is pretty much essential listening for fans of 20th century chamber music, and with energetic and first rate performances and recording this has to be a winner.

Dominy Clements




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