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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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French Moments
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Trio, op. 2 [27:51]
Achille-Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Premier Trio in G major [23:03]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Trio in D minor, op. 20 [18:52]
Neave Trio (Anna Williams (violin), Mikhail Veselov (cello), Eri Nakamura, (piano))
rec. 2017, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10996 [70:08]

Back in 2014, I was sent a disc for review featuring a young US-based Piano Trio I had not come across before, the Neave Trio. It was very much a promotional disc, but I was deeply impressed by the quality of the music-making, and wrote that I hoped that they would soon be signed up by an established label. Well, I am delighted to say that that earnest wish has come true. The current issue is their second with Chandos.

And a very fine one it is. The only work that remains from the promotional disc is Fauré’s D minor Trio, one of his finest works. The recital begins, however, with Albert Roussel’s Trio in Eb, which, though he was thirty-three when it was first performed, is in fact an early work, as one can see from the opus number. Roussel had spent many years in the French navy, and did not begin to study music seriously until he was in his mid-twenties. So this trio certainly is not representative of the mature Roussel of, say, the 3rd Symphony or Bacchus et Ariane. It is, though, an attractive work, even if extremely uneven. The opening is undoubtedly magical, with forest murmurs in violin and cello as the piano quietly states the main idea. But Roussel is not always sure what to do with his instruments, and this first movement has many uncertain moments. My feeling is that the piece gains creative fluency as it proceeds. Still, again there are weaknesses, such as the dubious judgement of having a predominantly slow middle movement succeeded by a slow opening to the finale; the momentum flags. This last movement is, however, where Roussel does show the influence of early Debussy and Ravel. He experiments interestingly with a deliberately episodic approach, with many changes of mood and tempo. It does not quite manage to hang together, though, despite the passionate advocacy of the Neaves.

There follows another early work – a very early one, written in 1880 when Debussy was just eighteen. As with the Roussel, this is nothing like the music we know from the later Debussy works. He was at the time working as piano teacher and pianist for the family of a certain Mme Nadezhda von Meck. She was the patron who, with her unbridled passion for Tchaikovsky’s music, supported him anonymously for so many years. Debussy’s trio also contains one of the most charming dedications in music, to his teacher at the time: “Lots of notes along with lots of affection offered by the author to his teacher Monsieur Émile Durand”.

Despite its immaturity, the trio contains, as Roger Nichols points out in his booklet notes, tantalising hints of the future Debussy. It also has a truly delightful balletic Scherzo (the Sugar Plum Fairy is not far away), and a cello solo in the third movement which you can sense Mikhail Veselov positively salivating over (in the best possible taste!). And when the melody returns, Anna Williams nurses it with devastating tenderness – rapture! This is, at the least, a highly accomplished and entertaining work. It deserves a recording of this quality as Debussy’s only essay in this form (despite having been published ambitiously as his ‘Premier Trio’; the string quartet is a similar case).

Then we come, finally, to the only true masterpiece here, Fauré’s Trio in D minor, a late work first performed only a year or so before his death. He was not a well man, complaining constantly of a great fatigue, and he had distressing problems with his hearing. All of that make this glorious work the more remarkable in its creative energy and individuality.

Fauré is a perfect example of ‘the art which conceals art’. His music flows in such a way that words like ‘development’ and ‘recapitulation’ just become redundant. This music grows in a purely organic way. And textures are effortlessly novel; in all three movements, Fauré at times has the violin and cello singing in unison, a sound beloved of the old trios that used to lurk in dark corners of hotel foyers (perhaps they still do?). I hasten to say: nothing in the least ‘Palm Court’ about this! The Andantino is presented with such unaffected tenderness that I was most moved – a performance to cherish. After that, the finale – the shortest movement – overcomes the anxiety of its opening phrase (is the similarity with Pagliacci’s Vesti la giubba a total coincidence? One wonders…) and rouses itself to an affirmative conclusion.

The only member I have not yet name-checked, Eri Nakamura, is a pianist of exceptional sensitivity. Indeed all three of these very gifted players have such manifest commitment to, and love of, the music they perform that questions of balance, intonation, ensemble and so on just do not really come into it. This is a superb disc.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

 

 




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