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Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Piano Trio in D major, Op. 22 (1907) [38.37]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Piano Trio in C minor (1897) [39.19]
Completed by Maximilian Steinberg (1883-1946)
Leonore Piano Trio (Benjamin Nabarro (violin), Gemma Rosefield (cello), Tim Horton (piano))
rec. January 2016, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London
HYPERION CDA68159 [77.58]

This welcome Hyperion album from the Leonore Piano Trio of Russian chamber music consists of a piano trio each from composers Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev.

Late to start, the chamber music movement in nineteenth century Russia greatly lagged behind the prolific Austro/German tradition with really only Tchaikovsky and Borodin writing string quartets that secured a place in the repertory. It was in the late 1880s that timber merchant Mitrofan Belyayev, an amateur viola player and later music publisher, championed Russian chamber music by arranging weekly recitals known as Quartet ‘Fridays’ at his St. Petersburg home. Belyayev’s circle of composers included Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov plus several younger associates including Lyadov, Ippolitov-Ivanov, Arensky and Glazunov.

In 1871 Rimsky-Korsakov became a professor of composition at St. Petersburg Conservatory and during the machinations of the 1905 Revolution was dismissed from the Conservatory and reinstated the next year. As a composer Rimsky-Korsakov began to develop a reputation as a master orchestrator and became renowned for his enduringly popular symphonic suite Scheherazade. He was also an enthusiastic composer of opera and did write a small body of chamber music. Composed in 1897 Rimsky-Korsakov was rather disparaging of both his String Quartet in G major and Piano Trio in C minor considering himself unsuited to writing chamber music. Played here by Leonore Piano Trio the Piano Trio in C minor was left incomplete at the composer’s death. It was in 1939 that Maximilian Steinberg undertook the task of completing or reworking the score ready for publication

This characterful performance from the Leonore Piano Trio is full of contrasts and feels responsive throughout. The squally opening movement Allegro assai is fresh and laden with vitality containing an unsettling undercurrent of disquiet while the disarmingly vibrant Scherzo has a touch of mischievousness. Possessing a restrained passion the Adagio movement is played with composure and compassion. Containing a yearning sense of heartbreak there is a marvellous cello solo ardently played by Gemma Rosefield. In two contrasting sections the Finale begins with a reflective Adagio followed by a determined Allegro assai of an exhilarating temperament and a keen sense of anxiety laden anticipation.

Although a talented concert pianist Sergei Taneyev was inextricably linked to the Moscow Conservatory. Formerly a student at the Conservatory he taught there from 1878 until 1905 serving as director during the period 1885-89. It was the 1905 Revolution however which caused Taneyev’s resignation from the Conservatory. Today Taneyev is probably best known as the teacher of Lyapunov, Glière, Scriabin, Medtner and Rachmaninov. Taneyev composed over twenty chamber works favouring the string quartet form of which he wrote eleven scores. By the time Taneyev wrote his mature Piano Trio in D major in 1907 he had already composed four symphonies and his opera Oresteia. In the hands of Leonore Piano Trios this captivating four movement work opens with a squally Allegro gleaming and full of vitality that is so characteristic of the composer. We hear a vigorous performance of the boisterous Scherzo constructed with an unremarkable theme but an adroit set of variations beginning and ending tempestuously. The moving Andante contains an aching passion that I find has an atmospheric quality. With its bold and invigorating feel the Finale: Allegro con brio is not too dissimilar in mood to the opening movement, although it tends to vary more in intensity.

A fine chamber group the Leonore Piano Trio excels in a variety of repertoire and seems especially suited to these colourful Russian scores. Notable is the technical command of the players who show admirable intonation while producing attractive timbre with the instruments blending together seamlessly. Recorded at All Saints Church, East Finchley the Leonore Piano Trio has the benefit of excellent sound quality which is clear with presence and is well balanced between piano and strings. Nigel Simeone has written the first class booklet essay which is a helpful and informative read. This performance of the Rimsky-Korsakov Piano Trio stands comparison with any of the digital recordings I have heard in the catalogue. However from 1952 the magnificent played Moscow account from the Oistrakh Trio of David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Knushevitsky and Lev Oborin is still the recording by which rivals are judged. Originally on Melodiya the recording has been reissued in a Brilliant Classics box set. With regard to the Taneyev Piano Trio I slightly prefer the gripping 2003 Vevey account from Vadim Repin, Nobuko Imai and Mikhail Pletnevon on Deutsche Grammophon.

Chamber music lovers have little reason to hesitate with this rewarding album of piano trios from Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev on Hyperion.

Michael Cookson



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