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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Anton Stepanovich ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Piano Trio No.1 in d minor, Op.52 (1894) [29:25]
Piano Trio No.2 in f minor, Op.73 (1905) [28:46]
Rachmaninov Trio Moscow (Mikhail Tsinman (violin); Natalia Savinova (cello); Victor Yampolsky (piano))
rec. no details supplied. DDD.
Also available as a download from classicsonline – here – and eMusic – here – (both mp3)
TUDOR CD7152 [58:42]

Experience Classicsonline

I am reviewing this recording as a download from eMusic, where it was released as a download prior to its issue on CD, due in December 2010. As with the Tudor recording of Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner’s Third Symphony (Tudor SACD7133), I originally intended simply to include the review in my next Download Roundup but quickly decided that it deserved and needed the greater space of the main Musicweb International pages.

We already are well provided with versions of Arensky’s Piano Trio No.1, from the Nash Ensemble, coupled with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Quintet on CRD 3409, the (Vovka) Ashkenazy Trio on Naxos 8.550467 with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Piano Trio, or the Borodin Trio on Chandos CHAN8477 with Glinka’s Piano Trio. Couplings of the two Arensky trios, however, are much rarer: the only current competitor to the new Tudor recording comes from the Borodin Trio again, on a budget-price Chandos release, CHAN10184X, available on CD for around 7.00 in the UK: the Philips Beaux Arts Trio coupling seems to be no longer generally available in the UK. The Chandos price represents a considerable saving on the price of the new Tudor CD (likely to be around 12), though the Tudor is more economical as a download (7.99 from classicsonline or 3.36 for eMusic subscribers). Can the quality of the new performances justify the difference?

The First Trio with its unmistakable echoes of Arensky’s teacher Tchaikovsky, though with a nod to other romantic composers and an overall style all his own, is understandably the better-known work. Its coupling with his mentor’s Piano Trio is probably the most apt, and certainly the most generous in terms of playing time of those under consideration, at 78:47. The Naxos price advantage is clearly a consideration.

In my May 2009 Download Roundup, I marginally preferred that Naxos recording of the wonderfully attractive First Trio, but there is very little wrong with the less emphatic, more lyrical Nash performance or the darker, more moody Borodin Trio. The Borodin are not lacking in power when the movement takes off, but the more powerful Naxos is rather more to my liking, taking just 9:46 for the first movement. The Borodin take 11:53 over that opening movement, as against 11:27 on the new Tudor CD.

Despite being closer to the overall timing of the Borodins than to the Naxos performers, the Moscow players get the movement underway from the start as effectively as the latter. You may miss the Borodin’s intensity at the opening, as I do, but we can’t have it both ways and I think it’s best to keep up the momentum here. If you find the Naxos performers just a little too forceful, the new recording probably represents the best blend of the power, lyricism and moodiness of its three rivals. I’m sure that I shall want to return to it: indeed, I would never have gone to the expense of downloading it, had I not already listened to the streamed version from the Naxos Music Library and enjoyed what I had heard. Try it there first if you are a subscriber.

The scherzo second movement on the new recording is as free-wheeling as you could wish, at 6:16 against the Borodin’s slightly slower 6:25 – actually the difference sounds greater than the simple timings suggest, especially when the Naxos version looks – but doesn’t sound – slower still at 6:27. The Nash Ensemble are a little faster than any other version, at least on paper, but the Moscow performers are quite fleet enough for my liking: you’d be hard pressed to make a case for them sounding slow or heavy.

The Elegia is affective in the hands of the Rachmaninov Trio, without wearing its heart too much on its sleeve; it and the allegro non troppo opening of the finale, its andante and allegro sections and its briefly boisterous conclusion also come off very well. The new recording becomes, on balance, my preferred version. If you want the two trios together, the new recording is almost mandatory, with only the Borodin on Chandos as rivals.

The Second Trio is less immediately appealing but has its own charms and doesn’t deserve the neglect which it has suffered. Once again the Rachmaninov Trio present a very good case for it, while making less heavy weather than the Borodins and never making the music outstay its welcome, yet without downplaying any of the emotional content.

The second movement is an affecting Romance: as with the Elegia of the First Trio, the performers’ collective heart is not too overtly worn on sleeve – after all, it’s marked andante, not adagio, and the performance moves at the right pace. By contrast the Borodin Trio are just a little too languid. The scherzo third movement is light and airy in both performances.

The finale consists of a theme and variations – it’s not the equal of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, nor anything like as long or intense, but presumably consciously modelled on it. Once again, it receives an emotionally telling, though not over-passionate performance – Arensky varies the sentiment with lighter passages – on the Tudor recording. In the closing bars the Rachmaninov Trio convey the sense that all passion is spent and the rest is silence. There isn’t a great deal to choose between the two performances here, except that the Borodin Trio are apt to squeeze a drop or two more sentiment or portentousness out of the more emotional passages.

I don’t wish to convey the impression that the Borodin Trio performance of the Second Trio is poor – until I heard the new recording, I had no quarrel with it – but I did find that the new version has raised the work in my esteem, not greatly, but significantly. offers the Chandos booklet with the Borodin Trio download. There’s none with the Tudor, but that Chandos booklet is available to all comers, so the notes on the music are equally applicable to the Rachmaninov Trio recording – except that their performance of the Second is not more expansive than that of the First Trio, as the booklet states. Without a score I can’t be sure, but I suspect that’s because the Rachmaninov Trio omit a repeat or two in the outer movements – no great hardship if that is the case.

The Borodin Trio versions come as mp3 and lossless downloads from Chandos’s own, as well as on CD. It’s a little unfair to be comparing the Chandos in lossless sound with the Tudor in mp3, especially when the bit-rates of the eMusic download range from an acceptable 224 kb/s to the maximum 320 kb/s. As yet there is no available download in lossless sound – wait for to provide that in due course – but I had no complaints about the eMusic mp3. At 3.36 – even less to long-term subscribers still on the old 50-track for 11.99 rate – it’s less than half the price of the classicsonline version, though all the tracks on the latter are at the full 320kb/s. The quality of the eMusic download suggests that the CD will sound very good, though it doesn’t appear that it will be available in SACD, as many recent Tudor releases have been.

Brian Wilson









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