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Gayané CHEBOTARYAN (1918-1998)
Trio (1945) [8:24]
Arno BABADJANIAN (1921-1983)
Trio in F-sharp minor (1953) [22:56]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (arr. José Bragato) [23:13]
Trio de L’Île
rec. 2020, Oscar Peterson Hall, Concordia University, Montreal
DIVINE ART DDA25211 [54:53]

The Divine Art label is being very kind to the piano trio aficionado. In recent years, it has issued two recordings from the Australian Trio Anima Mundi containing a number of first recordings by British and Commonwealth composers. Here the Canadian ensemble Trio de L’Île gives us three works with some presence in the catalogue – the Piazzolla has more than 20, the Babadjanian more than a dozen – but which can only benefit by more exposure. The composers are near-contemporaries and each work has considerable folk music and/or dance influences.

Gayané Chebotaryan is described as an Armenian composer, even though she was born in what is now Russia. Her single movement trio is the least known here, with influences from Armenian folk music which her mentor Khachaturian would have appreciated. In just over eight minutes, you are taken on quite an emotional journey. It is not a work I am particularly familiar with, having met it for the first time during the course of my Piano Trio Survey, remarking then that it was enjoyable. My sense of it here is that it is more than just that.

Babadjanian wrote his trio eight years after his fellow Armenian, and they have a great deal in common, though Babadjanian’s is a normal size and in the usual three movements. It has a meltingly beautiful slow movement, flanked by energetic folk dance-inspired allegros. It was the discovery of my survey of the piano trio repertoire, and this is the second new recording of it I have reviewed in the last six months. I hope this means that the considerable merits of this work are now being taken more seriously. The previous recording, on Toccata Classics, was not a total success (review), falling well short of my preferred version by the Amici Ensemble on Atma Classique. I can now say that it falls even further behind what is now my top recommendation. Trio de L’Île give a simply outstanding performance here, capturing the passion and energy in a way that puts even the Amicis in the shade.

Piazzolla’s Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (Four Seasons) is one of his most popular works, arranged for numerous different instrumental combinations, that for piano trio being one of the most common. It was made by José Bragato, who was the cellist in Piazzolla’s own octet, so it is absolutely authentic, and one of my favourite pieces of music. My favourite version is … no, make that “was” … by an ensemble led by Jan Vogler on Sony (review), but is now that by Trio de L’Île. Again, the passion and energy in their performance is thrilling, and they have also given the music a rawness that I now realise, having listened to Piazzolla’s own recordings, is essential and missing from many other recordings, even the good ones, where a smooth Romantic sheen is applied. I have never heard the Autumn movement sound so intense – cellist Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy’s playing here is exceptional. Across the four movements, I lost track of the number of times that a shiver went down my spine – simply rapturous.

Trio de L’Île is comprised of three Canadian-based musicians - pianist Patil Harboyan, violinist Uliana Drugova and Beauséjour-Ostiguy. Remarkably, this is their debut recording as a trio; Harboyan does have a recording from 2014 of Armenian cello and piano music (review). She is described as Canadian-based Armenian, so I expect that the choice of the Babadjanian and Chebotaryan owes a considerable amount to her. Readers of my reviews will know that I intensely dislike strident hard-edged violin – Uliana Drugova gives a demonstration of how to do it properly, even at the loudest and fastest points.

At the time of writing this review, I had only one reservation: the short running time. However, the label informs me that another recording session had been planned, but it became a victim of COVID, so the decision was made that 55 minutes now was better than 75 minutes ... who knows when. I recall commenting in another review of a recording I didn’t enjoy that the short running time was actually an advantage because I didn’t have to listen to any more. Here it is quite the opposite – I craved another 20 minutes in the company of Trio de L’Île, but in these circumstances, I will settle for what we have, and look forward to their next release. This is my first review of the year, and it seems I have a Recording of the Year already in place.

David Barker

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