Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, op. 65 (1883) [39:30]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Piano Trio in G minor, op. 15 (1855/58) [26:25]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Elegy, op. 23 (1902) [6:16]
Sitkovetsky Trio (Wu Qian (piano), Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello))
rec. 2013, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK.
Reviewed as 24-bit lossless download from
BIS BIS-2059 SACD [73:11]

The Sitkovetsky Trio’s recently released recording of the Mendelssohn Trios hugely impressed me and I gave it a “Recording of the Month” accolade (review). My colleague Stephen Greenbank was similarly enthused by the performances and also the sound quality, and expressed the desire to hear more from this group (review). Somehow, the Sitkovetsky’s first recording for BIS missed out on a review on these pages when it was released in 2014. While Stephen, I and doubtless many others wait for their next recording, let’s look back at their all-Czech debut.

Among first-rank composers, Dvořák is perhaps the most obvious late bloomer. Very few people would choose one of his early symphonies over the last three, or an early quartet over the ‘American’, and so it is for his piano trios. The first two, discounting the even earlier op. 13 pair which are lost, are interesting, but not outstanding. The latter pair show his true colours. Given the other works written during his time in America, I wish that he had turned his hand to a trio whilst there.

The Sitkovetsky’s Mendelssohn was characterised by intensity and drama, but that isn’t quite so apparent with the Dvořák. My reference is the Florestan Trio, who find the perfect balance between the drama, poetry and grace in the work. The Sitkovetsky Trio seem a little under-characterised, and overly measured, especially in the middle movements. Their Allegretto grazioso is almost hesitant, rather than charming/delightful/pretty — depending on which translation site you use.

The Smetana trio, written in the aftermath of the death of his young daughter, is an cry of pain, and here the Sitkovetskys are better, indeed very possibly better than the Florestan Trio, whose well-known poise and elegance may not be the best match for this work (review). They are always very good, but I feel more angst in the Sitkovetsky.

Josef Suk’s Elegy, written as a tribute to the Bohemian novelist Julius Zeyer, for whom Suk wrote two theatre scores, was originally scored for the unusual combination violin, cello, string quartet, harp and harmonium. He quickly arranged it for the more conventional trio. At 6:45, the Sitkovetsky reading is more than a minute and half slower than the Florestan Trio, clearly playing up the funereal side of the work, perhaps a little too much so. Indeed, of the three recordings I have of this work, the rather less-heralded Joachim Trio on Naxos (8.553415) provide the best balance between sadness and forward progress.

As with their Mendelssohn, the sound quality is exceptional, far better than that provided for the Florestan Trio on the two Hyperion recordings. The playing of each artist is very fine, and the booklet notes are all that could be desired for their historical and musicological information.

Had this been my first encounter with the Sitkovetsky Trio, I would have been very, very impressed. Having come to it after the exceptional Mendelssohn follow-up, I can see the promise and where they have fallen short. It is also apparent how they have progressed very quickly, and it does make me very keen to hear their next offering.

David Barker

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