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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Preghiera (1940, arr. Fritz Kreisler) [5:29]
Trio élégiaque No.2 in D minor Op.9 (1894 rev. 1907 and 1917) [49:33]
Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor Op. posth. (1892) [12:01]
Daniil Trifonov (piano), Gidon Kremer (violin), Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė (cello)
rec. 2015, Trifolion, Echternach, Luxembourg
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 6979 [67:03]

Ensembles, which play piano trios, come in two kinds, which I shall call permanent and celebrity. Permanent ensembles have a name and stay together, sometimes over many years. Celebrity ensembles are composed of soloists, who have come together to play trios, perhaps on only one occasion. Both kinds of ensemble have their merits and issues: the players of the permanent ensemble know one another well and develop a group identity, while celebrity ensembles may not know one another’s playing very well. On the other hand, permanent ensembles can get stale and celebrity ones can strike sparks off one another. Other things being equal, I tend to prefer permanent ensembles, but I am open to any particular celebrity ensemble having a success.

This recording at first appears to be a celebrity ensemble. The veteran violinist Gidon Kremer is the presiding spirit, here celebrating his seventieth birthday and much older than his two companions. You may not have heard of his cellist, Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, but you have probably heard her, as she is the principal cello in Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer’s chamber orchestra, formed of players from the Baltic countries. The pianist Daniil Trifonov is by far the youngest of the three and recently had a great success with his recording of Liszt’s studies (review). He has already worked with the Kremerata Baltica, so the three of them are closer to a permanent ensemble than may at first appear.

They embarked on a long concert tour in 2016, in which the repertoire included Rachmaninov’s second Trio élégiaque. However, this recording was made before then, presumably as a deliberate choice, while it was still fresh for them and before any risk of it becoming routine. That is obviously the main work here, but they have added his first Trio élégiaque, a student work in one movement, and they begin with Preghiera, an arrangement made by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano of part of the slow movement from Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. Apparently Rachmaninov helped with the transcription. The result was one of Kreisler’s many short pieces he used primarily as encores, but here it makes a most suitable opening item in the programme, being slow, dreamy and melancholy.

Rachmaninov wrote his second Trio élégiaque in memory of Tchaikovsky, whom he revered and who had encouraged him. In choosing a piano trio as the way to make his tribute, he was following the example of Tchaikovsky himself, who wrote his own trio in memory of Nicolai Rubinstein. (Incidentally Kremer and Dirvanauskaitė have also recorded this, but with a different pianist.) Like the Tchaikovsky, this is a really big work, as you can see from the timing. The overall tone is melancholy, but the work as a whole is not in the least depressing. The first movement is perhaps the most impressive, beginning slowly and moving through a variety of tempi, but unified in mood. The second movement is a set of variations on a theme, taken from Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem The Rock, which Tchaikovsky had praised. The finale is much shorter than the other two movements. It begins vigorously but ends by returning to the opening material of the first movement.

I was immensely taken with the performance. Kremer’s questing and searching tone explores his material, probing it and finding expressive details. Dirvanauskaitė follows suit, and her lovely tone adds flavour and depth to the ensemble. Trifonov has a difficult task: this being Rachmaninov, the piano part is in places as demanding as a concerto, but this is chamber music and the player needs to complement his two colleagues, not dominate them. I was greatly impressed by the way Trifonov showed he could hold back, lighten his tone and play quietly, however complicated his material. He also has a lively sense of fantasy and any risk that the work might become monotonous is dispelled.

After this, the first trio élégiaque sounds like preparation or a sketch for the main work, but it is worth hearing and is also well done.

The recording is full and rich and the piano sound is well caught. The sleevenote is remarkably skimpy, with nothing about the players, apart from some session photographs. However, this hardly matters. I shan’t be discarding my fine old Beaux Arts recording of the two trios, now on Presto CD E4201752, but it is now over thirty years old. As an added inducement, this is the only currently listed recording of Preghiera.

Stephen Barber


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