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Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (1882) [43:43]
Antonín  DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 26/B56 (1876) [29:20]
Smetana Trio (Jitka Čechová (piano); Jana Vonášková-Nováková (violin); Jan Páleníček (cello))
rec. Bohemia Music Studio, Prague, 24 April-2 May 2008
SUPRAPHON SU3949-2 [73:12]
Experience Classicsonline

The musicality of performers from the Czech Republic is almost a given. The country is rich in musical history and boasts an impeccably strong tradition. Here are three artists who clearly sit in the middle of this tradition. Everything heard here is born of the utmost musical integrity yet is informed with first-flush freshness.
The Tchaikovsky Piano Trio is given a fluid, responsive performance here. There is no doubting the sterling musicianship of all three players. Unfortunately, pianist Jitka Čechová is recorded slightly too far back in the sound space. We get plenty of chances to admire the gorgeous interplay of violin and cello in the opening “Pezzo elegiaco” but Čechová remains firmly in the background which lessens tension at many junctures. Čechová is clearly a major talent, as her discs of Smetana on Supraphon have so conclusively demonstrated. The 25-minute Variations begin in the most intimate of fashions – we could so easily be in someone’s home. Slowly, the music climbs out of its shell into grander emotions. The level of structural understanding evidenced by the present players is remarkable. Not for them a mere ‘music-box’ variation, around five minutes in – the passage has real structural point. Yet each variation is exquisitely coloured. The Waltz is surely the perfect example of this, the essence of Tchaikovsky, while the fugue is charged with a dynamic excitement that is generated by the exuberant interplay of line. Čechová is massively characterful in the mazurka variation. The movement here emerges in these players’ hands as a magnificent, many-sided jewel. The darkness of the final moments is palpable, an emotional outpouring bordered in shades of black. The very close hangs in the air, poignantly. Supraphon leave a good gap between the two pieces.
I’m certainly happy to have this account sit next to the Argerich/Kremer/Maisky DG version: DG 459 326-2, coupled with the Shostakovich E minor Trio.
The coupling takes the Smetana Trio back to home turf - to Dvořák. And completely at home they sound in Dvořák’s free-flowing melodic invention. The twelve-minute first movement is performed with a sort of effortless ease which nevertheless seeks to honour the G minor unsettled currents. It is a balancing act that is all the more impressive for the Smetana Trio’s seemingly trouble-free execution. This group is evidently a well established unit from the way motifs are passed, seamlessly, from one instrument to another. Magnificent tenderness informs the Largo. The Presto Scherzo requires that all players are on their toes. It would be difficult to imagine a finer, fresher, more youthful account than this, while the finale explores darker corners, juxtaposing them with sparkling passages of the most brilliant daylight.
Colin Clarke


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