There’s strong competition for both of the major works on the Nimbus disc. For the Beethoven, with which the programme opens, my benchmark is provided by the Beaux Arts Trio (Decca Virtuoso 4785153, at budget price with the ‘Archduke’ and ‘Gassenhauser’ Trios, or Philips 4684112, 5 CDs also at budget price: the complete Beethoven Piano Trios). If you don’t own a recording of the ‘Archduke’ – perhaps the recent Harmonia Mundi from Isabelle Faust et al
: Recording of the Month – review
– one or other of these Beaux Arts couplings, still sounding well after more than 30 years, if a trifle dry heard immediately after the Nimbus, is a must-have.
Other recordings which I’ve kept in mind include the Florestan Trio on Hyperion (CDA67237, with Piano Trio Op.70/2 and Allegretto
, WoO39, or the complete Piano Trios, CDS44471/4).
Apart from the slightly drier sound of the older recording – not a significant problem – the most noticeable difference between the Petrof and Beaux Arts Trios is the lighter touch which the latter bring to the first movement and the greater sense of spookiness which they convey in the slow movement. It’s in the slow movement, which gave the work its nickname, that the Beaux Arts really score, adding an element of fantasy to the Petrof’s very accomplished but ultimately slightly too earthbound performance.
The notes in the Hyperion booklet aptly describe this movement as the slowest and most impressionistic in Beethoven, though the Florestan Trio slightly spoil the effect by omitting repeats, thus shortening it to 8:27 against 10:26 from the Beaux Arts and 11:40 from the Petrof Trio.
I imagine that most prospective buyers will be looking at the new recording principally for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio ‘In Memory of a Great Artist’, a work which has received a number of very fine performances, including a recent rival release by the Evrus trio, reviewed as an mp3 and 16-bit lossless download, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com
My benchmarks against which I have judged these two new recordings of the Tchaikovsky include the Kempf Trio (BIS-1302-CD, with Rachmaninov) and Trio Wanderer, the latter with what I consider the ideal coupling, Arensky’s Piano Trio No.1, Op.32, cast in such a similar manner to that of his master (Harmonia Mundi HMC902161 – review
and Download News 2014/4
). I have also owned for several years and still like the budget-price offering from the Ashkenazy Trio on Naxos, also with the Arensky (8.550467).
It’s essential to capture both the power and the lyricism of the opening movement and the Evrus Trio initially go for the latter rather than the former. The lyricism is certainly inherent in the music – the indication is Pezzo elegiaco
– and if that’s how you like your Tchaikovsky, you’ll most likely enjoy this recording, but I recommend checking it out from Qobuz
or Naxos Music Library
first. By around three minutes into their performance the power has built up, too, but I prefer the opening to grab the listener a little more.
If anything the Petrof Trio’s opening is a little more rhapsodic still – emphasising the yearning side of Tchaikovsky’s music – and though they, too, begin to inject the power, in their case earlier, before two minutes have elapsed, and build up to a powerful climax by around three minutes in, I missed the opening punch of Trio Wanderer. By the end of the movement, however, the Petrofs had pulled ahead of the Evrus in my estimation. Though slightly faster than the Evrus Trio, they capture the elegiac nature of the movement equally well and come close to matching the power of Trio Wanderer.
The Kempf, Petrof and Evrus Trios both take the theme and opening variation of the second movement at a sedate pace by comparison with Trio Wanderer, who, I think, come closest to the second part of the andante con moto
marking of the theme. They remain my version of choice in terms of performance and aptness of coupling, but the two new rivals are not far behind. All the recordings which I have mentioned make a good showing in the second movement, with now one, now the other, marginally preferable in a particular passage. Overall, I could be happy with any of them.
Between the Nimbus and the Fontenay recordings I’d choose the Petrof Trio as not far behind the Beaux Arts and Trio Wanderer in Beethoven and Tchaikovsky respectively in terms of performance. The recording is very good, too, even compared with the 24-bit download of the Harmonia Mundi, and the three short Mendelssohn arrangements, though hardly the main reason for purchase, offer an added incentive.
Most recordings employ separate tracks for the variations in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky: the Kempf Trio recording on BIS has 16 tracks in all. That’s useful for lecturers but not necessary for most of us, so I’m perfectly happy with the fact that both the new recordings divide the movement into just two tracks: the theme and variations and the final variation and coda.
The Shostakovich Piano Trio which closes the Evrus Trio disc is an early work in one movement. Though it’s remarkable music for a 17-year-old, you would hardly recognise the mature composer from this trio and there are already at least two outstanding recordings which couple it with the mature Second Piano Trio, Op.68: the Florestan Trio on Hyperion (CDA67834: Recording of the Month – review
and Download Roundup June 2011/1
) and the Smetana Trio (Supraphon SU41452 – Download News 2014/8
). The Smetana Trio also throw in a fine performance of the Ravel Piano Trio. If you have either or both of these, you’re unlikely to find any new revelations from the Evrus Trio, good as their performance is.
As I was about to close this review I noted that Audite have just released a recording of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov Piano Trios from Trio Testore (92.691). So far I’ve listened only to the Rachmaninov and the first movement of the Tchaikovsky via Naxos Music Library
. They open with emphasis on the elegiac but also pack a punch; initially I think this will also be a version to consider, but you may wish to wait for a full review in a forthcoming Download News.
When deciding which version of the Tchaikovsky to listen to in future, my choice is likely to be decided by considerations of coupling as much anything else. If I lean slightly towards Trio Wanderer, I can well appreciate that others may incline more to the Petrof or Evrus Trios for the reasons given.