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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Trio in A minor (1914) [27:58]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 3 (1881) [31:07]
Vienna Piano Trio
rec. 2019, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 942 2130-6 SACD [59:05]

I'm not sure I'd ever heard Chausson's Piano Trio before now, but better late than never. This broad Romantic score somehow takes in grand gestures - including the composer's characteristic "sideways" harmonic shifts - while still maintaining the expressive and aesthetic bounds of chamber music.

The first three of the four movements begin similarly - quietly unstable piano phrases at the start slowly expand into the full texture - but each uses the pattern to launch a different musical design. The first becomes a turbulent sonata-allegro, propelled by bounding dotted rhythms. The second is an undulating Gallic take on a Mendelssohn scherzo; the third, quietly uneasy, eventually attains a bittersweet lyricism. This sets the stage for the cheerful finale, in which the mazurka-like rhythms occasionally smooth into a waltz; after a patch of fresh turbulence, the movement subsides into a quiet, ambivalent resolution. Some may find the demonstrative rhetoric a bit much, but the impulsive surges carry you along.

I'm not so sure about the Ravel Trio, which almost sounds stitched together from two separate scores. The first movement - a limping, off-kilter court dance - and the third occupy shadowy, ghostly provinces, with sombre, dignified half-tints - although, in that context, the first movement's surges feel incongruous. The vaguely dancelike second movement and the gently bubbly finale, conversely, are bright and crisp, cast in the composer's familiar pentatonic idiom, although only the second movement, Pantoum - "a Malayan verse form," according to Elizabeth Deckers's booklet note - suggests an explicitly "Oriental" association.

The Vienna Piano Trio is excellent: the players' incisive rhythmic address helps keep everything in motion. Both string players are particularly good at "filling out" the longer notes with tone and vitality; pianist Stefan Mendl is also fine, though his touch is almost too muted and gossamer at the start of the Ravel.

The recorded quality, too, is excellent. So now it's up to you.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Previous review: Dave Billinge

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