Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio No. 5 in D, Op. 70 No. 1, Ghost (1808) [22:51]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Dumky Trio, Op.90 (1891) [31:39]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Piano Trio No.2 in D minor, H327 (1950) - Third movement [4:34]
The Czech Trio (Ivan štraus (violin): Saša Večtomov (cello): Josef Páleníček (piano))
rec. 15 October 1972, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

There were successive incarnations of the legendary Czech Trio, one of whose instigators was that wonderful player Karel Hoffmeister. The most august line-up was that of Jan Heřman, Stanislav Novák and Ladislav Zelenka - three figures steeped in greatness. And the group continues today. For many years after Heřman’s death - and there really needs to be a reissue series devoted to his memory - the mantle of pianist fell on Josef Páleníček. By the time of this live concert, given at the QEH in London in 1972 the violinist was Ivan štraus and the cellist Saša Večtomov. Of the three štraus is the only one still alive.

The centrepiece of the concert was that most hardy and dutiful example of the native chamber repertoire, the Dumky Trio. They left behind an eminent recording of it on Supraphon 1 11 1089, and I would like to think - but can’t be sure - that a broadcast performance or three must exist in the archives in Prague. If so, things have been slow in coming forth. This is a typically expressive and tangy performance, so full of subtle gestures and rhythmic nuance that one can almost take these things for granted. The ensemble had been well established by this point, and the sense of narrative continuity is absolute. There is no sense of sectionality, even in a work as potentially difficult as this to corral and ensure an inevitable arch-like structure. Characterisation is optimum; štraus can turn on asperity when needed, his tone even taking on a resinous commitment. Páleníček is a lynchpin, his treble colouration in the Andante piquant, whilst Večtomov’s cello imitates a guitar thrum with apt openheartedness. There is potency and vivid pleasure throughout the performance, the accelerando into the March being especially commanding. The melancholy of the music flows naturally and freely. There are two tape blips; at 2:15 in the second movement and at 2:39 in the finale but they pass rapidly.

The Ghost Trio was also on the programme. It receives a reading of brisk direction, without becoming terse or inexpressive. It’s certainly relatively unsentimental and mercifully unindulgent. Those who clamour for the heavenly length of the Goldberg-Casals-Serkin reading of 1954 will find this later traversal to be altogether too terse. But conversely the Czech Trio refuse to make a meal of the writing, and their concision sits better with our current expectations. I found it a direct and affirming reading, excellently played. The encore is a single movement from Martinů’s D minor Trio - unexpected and hence doubly welcome. The Ravel Trio was played at the concert but is not included for reasons of space.

So splendid a group as this should be represented by a sheaf of recordings. This one fills a real need and catches them on the wing, on tour, and on splendid form. The recording is equally vivid and allows one to hear considerable detail without detracting in any way from the ensemble sureties on show. It goes to show how immediate, and yet sympathetic, good microphone placement can be. This excellent disc earns my warm admiration.

Jonathan Woolf