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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Piano Trio in G (1880) [22:00]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Trio (1914) [25:06]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio No. 4 ‘Dumky’, op. 90 (1891) [32:03]
Daroch Trio (Maria Daroch-Kjawińska (piano) Anna Daroch (violin) Tomasz Daroch (cello))
rec. Karol Szymanowski Music Academy Hall, Katowice, 2013.
DUX 0758 [79:09]

With a recording like this, I can’t help wondering who is the intended audience. By choosing three such oft-recorded works for their debut recording, the Daroch Trio sets itself up against the great trios of recorded music history. Sir Humphrey might have described their decision as “courageous”. No matter how good these performances are, and there is no doubt that they are very good, the majority of likely purchasers will already have at least one version of the Ravel and Dvorak, and probably the Debussy as well, particularly since the two French works are very frequently paired. Perhaps substituting one of these for something much more obscure, possibly Polish, given the performers and label, might have been better.

When I listen to a recording for the first time, it is often while doing something else at the computer. It is a good sign when the music draws me back. That occurred here in the Ravel, when the cello joins the piano early in the Passacaille. The intensely dark tone produced by Tomasz Daroch’s cello was absolutely captivating. Now paying full attention, I found another possible reason why my attention was captured. The Darochs take this movement two minutes faster than the Beaux Arts Trio and a minute less than the Florestan Trio, my two standards for the Ravel.

Ravel’s tempo indication of trčs large is rather imprecise, and has led to a very broad, if you will pardon the pun, variation in interpreting what he might have meant. A quick trawl through the twenty or so versions in the Naxos Music Library found that the Darochs at 6:18 were not even the fastest in this movement, and some big names – Heifetz, Rubinstein and Piatigorsky (6:23), the French Trio Wanderer (6:55) and most significantly, the Beaux Arts Trio themselves in 1960 (6:37) – take this faster approach. By way of illustrating how diverse has been the interpretation of the tempo, the slowest is the Eroica Trio at 9:31.

Having dispensed with the idea that the Darochs were being radically fast, it was then a matter of actually listening to the performances. I did feel that Maria Daroch did take the opening piano solo in the Passacaille slightly too fast, but the contribution of the strings was so glorious that I could overlook that. Going back to the studio Beaux Arts recording on Philips from 1984, I started to think that perhaps they were just too slow – the pauses between notes on the piano at the start seemed to be bordering on excessive. In the other movements, the Darochs are very much among the norm, almost identical timing-wise with the Florestans. I think it is fair to say that this is an unsentimental performance of the Ravel, vigorous, almost muscular in places, lacking a little in Gallic reserve, a young person’s version perhaps.

The Debussy trio, a product of his teenage tears, has always been sniffily regarded as barely more than a salon piece. The Darochs give it a more Romantic feel, taking into account the context of its era and the connection to Tchaikovsky, through his patroness Nadejda von Meck, at whose Italian villa Debussy was staying when he wrote it. They take the scherzo significantly faster than the Florestans, and the climax before the trio section is much more intense. The other three movements are slower, and they take the appassionato marking of the finale at face value. Some may find this Debussy a little too robust for their liking, but I think it makes for a more characterful work than performances which treat it as fluffy salon music.

One might expect that the Eastern European connection between the Polish performers and the Bohemian Dvořák would make this the best match of the three works, but it isn’t necessarily so. I like their earthiness, entirely appropriate given the folk origins of the dumka, but more could have been made of the contrast between the light and dark, the happy and sad elements. There are some lovely moments, none better than the opening of the third movement.

The Daroch siblings formed their trio in 2003. Their first recording has been a long time coming, and my overall impression is very positive. They may lack for a little subtlety in places, but there is no doubting their commitment. The sound quality is very good, and the booklet notes perfectly adequate. Despite the obvious qualities of this release, my initial reservations apply: beyond the avid collector of trios in general or of these specific composers, who is likely to buy it?

David Barker