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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Trio in A minor (1914) [25:52]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Piano Quartet in A major, Op. 30 (1897) [35:14]
Trio Machiavelli
rec. 2019, SWR Studio, Kaiserlautern, Germany
BERLIN CLASSICS 0301417BC [61:13]

What immediately draws me to this new release is the coupling of the Ravel Trio with the Chausson Piano Quartet. Browsing the catalogue, there are numerous instances of the two composer’s piano trios being paired, but this combination seems to be a first. The logic behind the programming is that the positive flavour of the Chausson acts as the perfect counterbalance to the dark and intensive character of the Ravel. The booklet notes point to another link, this time between the composers themselves – yes, serious traffic accidents. A taxi cab accident eventually put paid to Ravel’s composing career, whilst Chausson died at the premature age of 44 due to a cycling accident.

Although Ravel had begun thinking about his Piano Trio as far back as 1908, the gestation was slow.  He was intent on finishing it when World War 1 began. Pulling out all the stops he penned the finishing bars in August 1914 with the aim of enlisting. Claire Huangci, the pianist in this recording, makes it plain that the Trio is no easy task, and demands 150% from the players. Quirky, with many textures and layers in addition to complexity of the individual parts, the Machiavelli Trio waited and explored other music "until we felt we were ready for it". Their patience has paid off. This is one of the finest recordings of this work I've heard. The work is suave and sensuous, and I once heard it described as "a dreamy palette of impressionist colour". Throughout, the Machiavelli Trio are sensitive to the music's ebb and flow, and the engineering balance between the three instrumentalists couldn't be better. The opening movement betrays Ravel's Basque heritage. Then follows a Pantoum, the name referring to a Malaysian verse form. The ensemble perform it with infectious exuberance, at the same time capturing the playful quality. The Pasacaille's processional tread unfolds as a set of variations. It starts life in the depths, rises to potent climax and then fades away. The finale is a tour de force, with tremolos, trills, energy and flourish.

Chausson’s less well-known Piano Quartet in A, Op. 30 dates from 1897, two years before the composer’s untimely death. The first movement sets a mood of optimism and good cheer. There follows a sublime slow movement marked Très calme, both limpid and poetic. Adrien Boisseau’s viola theme at the outset is both ardent and yearning. I detected some Debussian influence in the scherzo-like third movement, whilst the finale, rather long, revisits themes from earlier movements.

The Ravel, then, takes centre stage, and the performance stands up well in a crowded field. Both works have been beautifully recorded. On the strength of these life-enhancing performances, I would like to hear more from this group.

Stephen Greenbank
Solenne Païdassi (violin)
Tristan Cornut (cello)
Claire Huangci (piano)
Adrien Boisseau (viola) (Chausson)

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