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Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 (1894) [29.30]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (1881/82) [42.12]
Trio Wanderer (Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian (violin); Raphaël Pidoux (cello); Vincent Coq (piano))
rec. October-November 2012, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902161 [71.42]

This pair of Russian piano trios from contemporaries Tchaikovsky and Arensky share a common theme, written in homage to deceased friends and colleagues. They couldn’t receive finer advocacy.

Composed in 1894 Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 is dedicated to the memory of the renowned Latvian/Russian cellist Karl Davidoff who died in February 1889. Davidoff had been director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory whilst Arensky was studying there. Responding eloquently to Arensky’s score the playing of Trio Wanderer has an unforced and rarely encountered naturalness. The lengthy twelve minute opening Allegro moderato is squally and passionate. It is played with unquenchable spirit and real attention to detail. Displaying effortless technical command the second movement Scherzo-Allegro molto is cheerful and elfin, reflecting Davidoff's high-spirited side. Marked Elegia-Adagio the splendidly played third movement with its distinctly lugubrious tread is deeply disconsolate and introspective. Coming as a stark contrast the dramatic Finale: Allegro non troppo, so invigorating and questing, has all the qualities of an unruly dance. It is striped with four calmer episodes the final one of which is meltingly tender.

At the prompting of his patron Madame von Meck, Tchaikovsky wrote his intensely elegiac Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 whilst in Rome in the winter of 1881/82. The score was subtitled ‘In memory of a great artist’: Nikolai Rubinstein, his teacher and friend who had died suddenly in March 1881 in Paris. This substantial score, lasting here over forty-two minutes, is cast in two movements. There's a Pezzo elegiaco followed by a theme and variations with a Finale. The Trio Wanderer exercise a steely grip on this onerous A minor score. The opening movement is an example of romanticism at its most fervent. The second boasts an attractive theme followed by a gratifying interplay during the eleven varied and brilliant variations. To Finale is bold and excitingly robust. At around point 5:00 the music slows and calms right down for a solemn funeral march leaving a sense of sorrow and resignation.

The sound quality is excellent, vividly clearly and splendidly balanced. Accomplished and intensely compelling, these performances are as smart as a whip.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Simon Thompson