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The Mirror with Three Faces
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 (1944) [28:06]
Lera AUERBACH (b. 1973)
Piano Trio No. 1 (1992-94) [12:37]
Piano Trio No. 2 Triptych – This Mirror Has Three Faces (2012) [22:40]
Delta Piano Trio
rec. 2017, Studio Odradek ‘The Spheres’, Pescara-Montesilvano, Italy
ODRADEK ODRCD350 [63:30]

This was my first experience with the music of Lera Auerbach, though I had heard much about her before. I must say I am greatly impressed with her works here, especially the Trio No. 2. In addition, the Delta Piano Trio have provided an account of Shostakovich’s famous Trio No. 2 that as a performance challenges my benchmark, the Borodin Trio on Chandos, and as a recording surpasses it in the utter realism of the sound. Richard Hanlon rightly designated this disc as a Recording of the Month
. He referred to two other recordings of the Auerbach trios, which I was able to access via Spotify. Since he described the works in some detail, I will focus on comparing these new accounts with those and also the Shostakovich with other recordings in my collection.

I found Auerbach’s Trio No. 1 quite amazing for a twenty-year old composer. She has packed rather a lot in a 12+ minute span, from a lively, neo-Baroque prelude to a dark and ruminative slow movement and a toccata finale that takes off like a rocket. She employs a full panoply of devices, primarily on the cello, including sul ponticello and glissandi, but integrates them quite well into the texture of the work. This is apparent here more so than on the earlier recording by the Lincoln Trio on Cedille where these effects tend to draw more attention to themselves. One particular case is the cello’s imitating sea gulls near the end of the first movement. They are brought forward in the Cedille recording to a greater degree than in Odradek’s and actually diminish the overall atmosphere of the movement by being so obvious. Otherwise, there is little to choose between the accounts, with the Lincoln Trio’s programme devoted to the works of six women composers.

Auerbach shows considerable growth in her Trio No. 2, subtitled Triptych – This Mirror Has Three Faces. This is indeed a major addition to the piano trio repertoire. While influences of Shostakovich, Schnittke, and Prokofiev are evident throughout, the work has a personal voice, recognizable already in the earlier trio, which can only be described as Auerbach’s. Again she employs some of the devices she used in the first trio, but here they are even better absorbed into the structure of the piece. The trio contains a huge variety of moods from the loud piano chords that begin the work and the repeated piano notes that also recur in the fourth movement to the off-kilter waltz of the third movement and the sad, folklike song of the last movement which lingers long in the mind after the work has ended. The other recording of this trio is on a disc of American premieres by the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio (Bridge) that is also excellent. Some of my comments on the earlier disc of the first trio also apply here. As there, the Delta Piano Trio’s interpretation seems more settled to me and the sound is also better integrated. In both cases the accompanying music on the discs may well determine one’s preference for the Auerbach pieces.

As I indicated above, this new account of the Shostakovich masterpiece gives my benchmark recording by the Borodin Trio a run for its money. The Delta Piano Trio’s cellist creates a very eerie effect at the start of the first movement with her high notes sounding like wind blowing through the trees. The dynamic range is also quite amazing throughout and the sound has great presence—really state of the art. I compared this account with those by the Florestan Trio (Hyperion), whose straightforward interpretation also has much to recommend it, and Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch (SEW) on Nimbus, as well as the Borodin. All four have much to offer in the first movement at least. In the second movement the Delta adopt a faster tempo than the heavier Borodin, but not as quick or light as the Florestan. SEW are even faster and breathless, as if a race to the finish. Also their intonation is an issue in places. The piano chords that begin the passacaglia third movement in the Borodin account are rich and imposing, and the following violin and cello solos bring out the sadness very well. Indeed, the cello solo is heartbreaking there. The Florestan are also eloquent, but at a lower emotional pitch. While SEW do not equal the Borodin, they are very fine in this movement. The Delta are nearly as good as the Borodin, even if they are a bit less intense.

The fourth movement, the longest and most complex of the work, is most famous for its references to Jewish music. The Delta, as with the Borodin, choose a slower tempo than either the Florestan or SEW. The Borodin’s intensity borders on ugliness intentionally, I believe. They create an atmosphere of terror unmatched by any other recording with which I am familiar. To say that the Delta are almost their equal is high praise indeed. Their cello’s pizzicati have such presence that seem as if the musicians were performing right in front of the listener. The Delta’s interpretation is no light folk dance and again the dynamic range is outstanding. Midway through the movement the intensity becomes nearly unbearable and their tuning throughout is impeccable. The Florestan emphasize the folk elements in their lighter approach, while SEW are midway between the Delta and Florestan in projecting the emotion in the finale. However, the piano sound in the SEW account has a strident “ping” that soon becomes bothersome. Where the Delta win out, though, is in the recorded sound—more lifelike and well balanced than in all of these recordings.

I have no hesitation in recommending the Delta Piano Trio for their superb account of the Shostakovich and for introducing me to the Auerbach trios, to which I will return again and again.

Leslie Wright

Previous review: Richard Hanlon

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