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The Czech Album
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, op. 65 (1883) [41:28]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Piano Trio in G minor, op. 15 (1855) [30:20]
ATOS Trio (Thomas Hoppe (piano), Annette von Hehn (violin), Stefan Heinemeyer (cello))
rec. Bremer Sendesaal, Germany, July 2015
FARAO CLASSICS B108093 [71:48]

The ATOS Trio – the name comes from a composite of the performers’ given names – are a German ensemble, established in 2003. This is their third “national” album for Farao Classics, the previous being Russian and French; they have also recorded for CPO (review) and Azica.

These two works make a very sensible coupling, not only because of the nationality of the two composers but also because of the circumstances in which each was written: the Smetana was composed shortly after the death of his five year-old daughter, the Dvořák following the death of his beloved mother.

The trio has chosen to employ quite slow tempos in both works, particularly so in the Smetana as you can see below, and it seems a reasonable assumption that this is a response to the underlying sadness.

  ATOS Beaux Arts Florestan Sitkovetsky Solisti
Dvořák 41:28 38:47 39:54 39:30 38:36
Smetana 30:20 -- 25:13 26:25 --

My reference performances for these works – Dvořák: Trio Solisti (review) and Smetana: Sitkovetsky Trio (review) – manage to portray the anguish at faster tempos, by emphasising the variations in dynamics and tempo. The ATOS Trio don’t convince me that it is necessary to draw out these works quite so much, but it is a measure of the quality of the performances that only occasionally is there a sense of drag. There is an energy underpinning the broad tempos that somehow maintains momentum and interest. I suspect that these tempos would have been a complete failure with a lesser ensemble.

The Smetana Finale provides a good illustration of the contrast in approach. The Sitkovetskys are helter-skelter in the Presto that opens the movement, and then transition into the Grave with ghostly strings and the piano fading away. The ATOS begin more heavily and more slowly, and when they reach the tempo change, the piano chords dominate and remain strong. The Sitkovetskys take my breath away here, but the ATOS do produce a genuine sense of pain.

The notes are given an interesting twist, in that each of the three players contributes his thoughts about each work. Sound quality is excellent, and the tonal qualities of the instruments is rich, warm and appealing. There are some fairly prominent breathing noises in quieter moments, the slow movement of the Dvořák for example, which aren’t ideal, but not too distracting.

David Barker

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