Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Trio in A minor (1881-82) [50:23]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor (1892) [15:21]
Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould (violin); Alice Neary (cello); Benjamin Frith (piano))
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, Sussex, England, 7-8 June 2005.

At the outset I should say that Champs Hill Records assure me that despite the fact that these performances were recorded back in 2005, this album is a first release and not a reissue as some readers might suspect!

Having got that out of the way, I would hasten to add that these performances are polished, nicely blended and heartfelt. It would be difficult to imagine more robust, sensitive and responsive playing of these Late-Romantic works.

Tchaikovsky’s epic Trio with its widely varied moods and brilliant colours proved to be very influential upon this musical genre. He was asked to write a piano trio by his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck (whose resident piano trio included, as pianist, a French teenager, called Claude Debussy). At first reluctant, Tchaikovsky then changed his mind on the news of the death of his friend and critic, Nikolai Rubinstein in March 1881. The work was composed in Rome. Its imposing 19-minute, opening movement brims with melodies and is passionate and lyrical. The Gould Trio give it attack aplenty in its vigorous moments and touching tenderness in the quieter passages. The second movement is a set of inspired variations that includes: a waltz, a mazurka, and a brilliant little evocation of a music-box. It is thought that one variation was written in memory of a trip to an Amusement Park and another to a ball. The concluding movement, some 12 minutes long, is another exciting and vivacious variation and finale. Yet it ends in grief with a Chopinesque funeral march; presumably, Tchaikovsky had the passing of Rubinstein in mind.

Rachmaninov’s brief but haunting single-movement Trio élégiaque No. 1 is pure rapture in the hands of the Gould Piano Trio. Rachmaninov wrote two Trio élégiaques; they were written in quick succession in 1892 and 1893. The three-movement second Trio élégiaque is much better known. It was written under the influence of the news of Tchaikovsky’s death. - Tchaikovsky had encouraged Rachmaninov when he was a student. But this Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor was written in white-heat fervour in January 1892. It was premiered in a recital that the 18-year-old Rachmaninov gave at the Moscow Conservatory where he was still a student and, at the time, just 18 years old. It is a remarkably assured composition for one so young, which makes it so much more incredible and sad that this performance was its first and last in Rachmaninov’s lifetime. It was not published until 1947. Maybe this was not so surprising considering that it was written at such a great speed for that first performance. The score contained many errors and an almost complete lack of dynamic markings. Heavy editing was therefore necessary. Why is the term élégiaque applied to this trio? There appears to be no personality suggested. Malcolm MacDonald suggests that Rachmaninov had been suffering from depression after ill-health in the previous year. Indeed, a sense of isolation and desolation is apparent from its opening and closing pages. Not surprisingly, the piano part is given pride of place in this trio, such that it is almost a miniature piano concerto. Yet there is grateful lyrical writing for both string instruments.

I must applaud Malcolm MacDonald’s erudite and illuminating booklet notes; a model of their kind.

Polished performances of two outstanding works in the Piano Trio genre.

Ian Lace

Polished performances of two outstanding works in the Piano Trio genre.