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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Suite for clarinet, violin and piano from L’Histoire du Soldat (1918) [16:41]
Nicolas BACRI (b.1961)
A Smiling Suite op.100b (2006-7) [10:34]
Galina USTVOLSKAYA (1919-2006)
Trio for clarinet, violin and piano (1949) [15:24]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano (1938) [16:37]
Zodiac Trio (Kliment Krylovskiy (clarinet), Vanessa Mollard violin), Riko Higuma (piano))
rec. Blue Griffin Recording’s Studio, The Ballroom, Lansing, Michigan, USA, 1-3 November 2011

This disc presents a really interesting programme of works for a trio of piano, violin and clarinet. Equal weight is accorded to each instrument so there is a real feeling of integration.
The first item is the suite that Stravinsky made from his L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale). He fashioned two suites from the original, one using the same seven instruments (violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone and percussion) and one for trio, both of which omitted the spoken roles. Just as Arvo Pärt’s Fratres works in so many different versions so does Stravinsky’s composition which goes to show the consummate skill he brought to his writing. Each version works so perfectly it would be impossible to determine which the original was if one didn’t know. It brims with thrilling effervescence and bags of humour, despite its tale of greed and the heavy price that is paid for it. The fourth of the five sections is entitled Tango-Valse-Rag. In common with many composers in the early years of the 20th century Stravinsky delighted in including something of the popular music of the time. Extracting the principal elements from the original a perfect synthesis of the original has been created. It loses nothing of its brilliance despite being a mere 16 minutes long in comparison to almost an hour in the case of the original. On this recording the Zodiac Trio make the suite come magically to life.
The name of French composer Nicolas Bacri was unknown to me before I received this disc. Reading in the booklet that he has written more than 120 works makes me feel rather ashamed that I hadn’t come across him before. With the intriguing title A Smiling Suite the work receives its world premičre recording here. The delightful short ten and a half minute piece, cast in five short movements, has something typically French about it with witty interludes alongside bittersweet moments. It reminded me of the music of Françaix, Poulenc and Satie.
The upbeat nature of the two preceding works is set in stark contrast against the bleak musical landscape of Galina Ustvolskaya’s Trio. This she composed in 1949 but it did not receive its first performance for almost twenty years. It is a remarkable work which exemplifies her statement that “There is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead”. A particularly astonishing feature is a solitary note from the violin at the end of the central movement. It is so quiet as to be only just audible and is held for no fewer than 50 seconds. This must be pretty difficult to achieve though Vanessa Mollard gives one no cause to think so.
For those who consider jazz to be from a different planet it will perhaps surprise them to know that it was no less a jazz legend than Benny Goodman who commissioned Bartók to write a two movement work entitled Rhapsody. Bartók added a middle movement and this became the work that completes the present disc. It is Bartok’s only trio or chamber work with a wind instrument. That’s a great shame when you hear how utterly brilliant this music is. As always with Bartók the work abounds in folk tunes from his native Hungary as well as Romania and Bulgaria. This makes what at first may seem austere something very familiar to anyone from the region or who enjoys exploring the folk music of Eastern Europe. After inserting the central movement Bartók re-titled the work Contrasts which perfectly describes the different elements that are in evidence here: moods, tempi and dynamics. The violin part was requested by the famous violinist József Szigeti. It is interesting to read in the booklet that both he and Goodman wanted a two movement work that would be just long enough to fit on the two sides of a gramophone record (about 7 minutes). What they both got was two movements that lasted not 7 but over 12. Once the middle movement was added it became nearer 17 minutes making it one of the major chamber compositions of the century. The final version was given its premičre in 1940 with Szigeti and Goodman joined by Bartók himself – now that’s a concert I wish I’d been at. This is an immensely enjoyable disc comprising four wonderful works. They’re for a pretty unusual combination of instruments that nevertheless works so well. They are played here in such an expressive way that communicates the players’ obvious respect, admiration and delight in the music.
Steve Arloff