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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
The Complete Piano Trios
Piano Trio No. 3 in C major, H 332 (1951) [22:24]
Bergerettes, H 275 (1939) [22:55]
Piano Trio No. 2 in D minor, H 327 (1950) [17:25]
Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor “Cinq pičces brčves” H 193 (1930) [12:14]
Trio Martinů
rec. December 2016/January 2017, Martínek Studio, Prague
MUSICAPHON M56970 [75:20]

Two Czech ensembles recorded Martinů’s complete cycle of piano trios in the same hall a year or so apart. Between May and December 2015, the Smetana Trio (Jitka Čechová (piano), Jiří Vodička (violin), Jan Páleníček (cello)) recorded the works in Martínek Studio, Prague for Supraphon on SU4197-2. Then between December 2016 and January 2017 the trio that takes its name from the composer did the same in the same hall.

Petr Jiříkovský, Pavel Šafařík and Jaroslav Matějka have been performing as the Trio Martinů unchanged in personnel now for nearly 25 years. These experienced practitioners have a wealth of idiomatic understanding and, given their name, should be expected to reveal particular strengths in the music of their homeland and in particular that of Martinů himself.
The first thing to note is the difference in the sound. Supraphon’s engineers are well versed in judging studio acoustics but – surprise, surprise, and yet another thing shared by both discs – the same men are responsible for both recordings: producer Milan Puklický and engineer Jan Lžičař. So, I can only surmise that the Smetana preferred a warm and enveloping sound stage whereas their competitors wanted a more brittle sound that leads to some spread and to a more percussive piano spectrum.

This to a large degree reflects the nature of the interpretations themselves in which the Trio Martinů consistently cede to the Smetana in subtlety of detail and in the firm establishment of initial motor rhythms. In the D minor Trio the Smetana’s phrasing is that much more refined and inflected, whilst the plainer-speaking Martinů group, though good at crispness, characterise less sensitively. In the C major Trio the Smetana invariably manage to convey expectancy at a significantly faster basic pulse – indeed throughout the trios they are quicker in almost every movement. The delightful, early Cinq pičces brčves, his first Trio in other words, finds greater accenting and atmosphere in the Supraphon team’s recording – not least in the coiling, wrenching Adagio. Those who prefer a crisper, more uncluttered approach may enjoy the rather brusque approach of the Trio Martinů but they are rather too dogged, once again, in the Bergerettes.

The Supraphon performances seem to me to be in the direct lineage of the Czech Trio recordings of these trios for Panton back in the early 1980s. It’s not difficult to infer that when one realises that pianist Josef Páleníček, who established the group in 1934, was the father of Jan, the Smetana Trio’s current cellist. It would be good to welcome back those stereo recordings as they are consistently excellent interpretatively. The Musicaphon team offers unvarnished and dedicated readings but in all honesty, they are eclipsed by the Smetana (see Review).

Jonathan Woolf



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