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Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 (1894) [26:50]
Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 73 (1905) [31:16]
Münchner Klaviertrio
rec. live, 1992, Studio 3, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Germany
PROFIL PH19072 [58:11]

Although Arensky wrote a relatively small number of chamber works I appreciate their quality and believe they deserve a wider circulation in the recital hall. His pair of piano trios have done quite well in the catalogue with a number of recordings available especially of the Piano Trio No. 1; a personal favourite of mine. The performers on this album, the Münchner Klaviertrio (Munich Piano Trio), were founded in 1982 and are no strangers to the recording studio. Originally recorded in 1992 on the Calig label, I can understand why these most enjoyable performances have been chosen by Profil for reissue.

By way of introduction Arensky was one of the generation of composers that followed on from the Russian Nationalist School known as ‘The Mighty Handful’ comprising Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin who were based in Saint Petersburg during the period 1856-70. A pupil at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory (1879-82), Arensky studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov who was a significant influence as was his association with Tchaikovsky. Aged only twenty-one Arensky became a professor at the Moscow Conservatoire notably teaching Scriabin and Rachmaninov.

Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 is from 1894, the same year as his one act opera ‘Raphael’. The score is dedicated to the memory of Karl Davidoff who was director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory during his time there as a student. Davidoff was a renowned cellist so, predictably, Arensky ensures the score contains a prominent cello part. In the Arensky Piano Trio No. 1 the Münchner Klaviertrio provide unwaveringly assured playing. Imbued with joy, the outer movements and Scherzo, a sparkling waltz, are given performances high on ebullience. I love the way the gloriously melodic Elegia marked Adagio is afforded an interpretation of such an aching tenderness.

A late work, Piano Trio No. 2 was written in 1905, the year before Arensky’s death. Composed during a period of continuing illness the work is often described as the composer’s ‘swansong’. From the same year Arensky also completed his set of Etudes for piano and ‘The Tempest’, incidental music to Shakespeare’s play. Following the Piano Trio No. 1 by nine years, noticeable here is the maturity and substantial advancement in Arensky’s composing style. Standing out for me is the level of intensity the Münchner Klaviertrio give to the substantial opening movement with its squally character interspersed with episodes of deeply felt emotion. Proud and elegant the Romance is well differentiated with the Scherzo marked Presto both extrovert and uplifting. Another highlight is the Finale designed as a theme and six well contrasted variations played here with significant enthusiasm and such impressive expertise.

Overall these accounts of the Arensky Piano Trios are highly enjoyable and capture the Münchner Klaviertrio in fine form. Recorded in 1992 at Studio 3, Bayerischer Rundfunk these performances have satisfactory sound quality being clear and well balanced. Providing necessary information is the booklet essay written by Franzpeter Messmer. Nevertheless, this album from the Münchner Klaviertrio doesn’t quite displace the 2013 Wyastone, Monmouth accounts of such elevated artistry from the Leonore Piano Trio on Hyperion. Well worth hearing too is the captivating 2012 Berlin account of Arensky’s masterpiece, the Piano Trio No. 1 played by Trio Wanderer on Harmonia Mundi (c/w Tchaikovsky Piano Trio, Op. 50). Impressively played by Spectrum Concerts Berlin another excellent recording of the Piano Trio No. 1 is contained on its all-Arensky chamber music album recorded live in 2014 at Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie, Berlin on Naxos (c/w Piano Quintet and String Quartet No. 2).

Michael Cookson


Performers
Adrian Lazar (violin), Gerhard Zank (cello) and Hermann Lechler (piano)



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