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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Piano Trio No.1 Cinq pičces brčves H.193 (1930) [12.14]
Piano Trio No.2 in D minor H.327 (1950) [17.25]
Piano Trio No.3 in C major H.332 (1951) [22.24]
Bergerettes for Piano Trio H.275 (1939) [22.55]
Trio Martinů (Jaroslav Matějka (cello), Pavel Šafařík (violin), Petr Jiříkovský (piano)
rec. Martinek Studio, Prague, December 2016 and January 2017
MUSICAPHON M56970 [75.20]

This issue faces stiff competition from at least two other discs in my own collection, all three being by Czech artists, having exactly the same works and one of them even having the same recording engineer in the same studio. The competitors are the Kinsky Trio on Praga Digitals and the Smetana Trio on Supraphon. Since all three discs are equally well performed in most respects and the choice cannot be made on price (all the same price band) the only criterion left is that the Praga Digitals is an SACD and thus a surround recording. This may well not matter to many, though it should, because SACD surround adds immeasurably to the experience of the music.

As a Martinů enthusiast for over 50 years I can say at least one thing; you should have one or more of the discs, because the music is excellent. Listening to these pieces repeatedly in the hope of making a choice has been an entirely pleasurable, if essentially fruitless, activity, when it comes to actually choosing. As can be seen from the dates and Halbreich numbers, these four works come from three different periods in Martinů's creative life. The first trio, also known as the Five Short Pieces, comes from 1930, when the composer was 39. During this year he wrote a large number of chamber pieces and also his first Cello Concerto. His use, in the Trio, of short motifs rather than actual themes and an insistent polyphony, produces the sort of busy quality that provokes barbed remarks from commentators like 'composed with a rubber stamp'. This is to miss or at least gloss over the key characteristic of liveliness, which prevents any sense of routine, however thin the material. Considering that he wrote the entire piece in little over a week, it shows his sheer facility in the craft of composition. It was nine years later that he produced the Bergerettes, a much more considered piece, which was composed over a year or so. Four of the five movements are in da capo form with a gentle central aria, the fourth movement is a two-and-a-half minute rhythmic dash, acting as a contrast to the pastoral quality elsewhere. It is a light but attractive piece, which took many years to achieve general recognition. The Piano Trio No.2 of 1950 is a touch Haydnesque, having been written for the opening of the Haydn Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and thus paying some homage to the classical master. It is still very obviously Martinů, especially in the final allegro. He composed this commission during the period he was working on his great Sinfonietta La Jolla, one of many superb pieces from the early 50s. The final trio, No.3, was written just over a year later and this piece has more weight about it, despite the lively outer movements. The central andante hints at the nostalgia of a possible return from the USA to his Czech homeland. This never happened, but at the time it seemed feasible to the composer. It is a truly lovely work.

This generously filled disc, over 75 minutes, is well recorded and well played, and as noted above worth purchasing. However, as hinted in the first paragraph, the one which attracts me most is the Kinsky Trio on Praga, simply because I like and use SACD surround playback where possible. The present disc is thoroughly enjoyable too, but, like the also excellent Smetana Trio on Supraphon, only stereo.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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