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Martinu: Complete Piano Trios / Arbor Piano Trio

Martinu / Arbor Piano Trio
Release Date: 12/18/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572251   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbor Piano Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MARTINU Cinq Pièces Brèves (Piano Trio No. 1). Bergerettes. Piano Trios: No. 2 in d; No. 3 in C Arbor Pn Tr NAXOS 8.572251 (74:33)

Bohuslav Martinu's works for piano trio are fairly well represented on disc. In fact, a Praga release featuring the Kinsky Trio in a program exactly duplicating this one was reviewed by Steven E. Ritter in 33:4; and that disc has the advantage over this one—to the extent that one considers Read more it decisive—of being in multichannel surround-sound format.

Martinu was 40 before he got around to composing his first piano trio, alternately titled “Five Short Pieces,” in 1930, during his time in Paris. It was mainly Martinu's exposure to Stravinsky and neoclassicism that informed his first foray into the piano trio medium. Four of the trio’s five movements explore different degrees of Allegro in perky, strongly accented, irregular rhythms and mildly dissonant harmonies. Only the second movement, marked Adagio, is melodic in construction, as opposed to motivic.

The second and third trios both date from the same year, 1951, and were written during Martinu's dozen-year period (1941–1953) in the U.S. Martinu was an eclectic composer, absorbing the native musical dialectics wherever he happened to find himself, but never remaining constant to a particular style or school. As a result, there are moments in the D-Minor Trio that almost take on those characteristic Americanisms one hears in some of the more romantic-sounding scores of Copland, William Schuman, and Virgil Thomson. Life in New York was not particularly well suited to Martinu's tastes and temperament, and the first and second movements of the D-Minor Trio reflect the composer’s down frame of mind in a certain moroseness of mood, albeit expressed in some very tender and touching music. The spirit lightens, though, in the last movement, which is an amusing romp that now speaks in a Slavic-sounding tongue that distantly echoes moments in Dvo?ák’s “Dumky” Trio and Shostakovich’s E-Minor Trio.

The C-Major Trio, Martinu's last, also has a dark side to it, but on the whole, it’s a bit more extroverted than its D-Minor companion. Once again, the slow movement is of melting beauty, with a final cadence of the most comforting tranquility. The five pieces that comprise Martinu's Bergerettes date from 1939, approximately midway between the first piano trio and the second and third trios. The title is not an entirely made-up non-existent word like the one Debussy used to name his Suite bergamasque, nor is it related to baguettes or bagatelles. Bergère is French for shepherdess, and though you wouldn’t necessarily hear it in these mostly upbeat, highly rhythmic folk-like country dances, there’s an ominous undercurrent to this music, written as the Nazi forces were advancing towards France.

The Arbor Piano Trio—Stephen B. Shipps, violin; Richard L. Aaron, cello; and Dmitri Vorobiev, piano—seems to have come together fairly recently in the Czech Republic, and soon after toured across the U.S. The ensemble may be young, but its members are all veteran players of American orchestras, chamber groups, and music festivals.

Ritter was not overly enthusiastic about the Kinsky’s performances, but ended his March/April 2010 review by doubting that another version of Martinu's complete piano trios on a single disc would be coming along anytime soon. And yet, here they are, much sooner than Ritter could possibly have imagined, for the Naxos recording at hand, though newly arrived, was actually recorded in August and September of 2010, just four months after Ritter’s review was published.

If the Arbor Piano Trio has recorded before, it hasn’t been for Naxos, and I find no evidence of any other albums, so this may be the ensemble’s recorded debut; of that I can’t be sure. I find no fault with the Arbor’s performances. The players seem to find the right tone, the right balances, and the right interpretive approach to each of the works, and this is an ensemble I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from in the near future. For anyone who loves beautiful chamber music and appreciates it being beautifully played, this is a CD you should not be without.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 3 by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbor Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951; USA 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbor Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; Czech Republic 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 "Cinq pièces brèves" by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbor Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Bergerettes for Violin, Cello and Piano by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arbor Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; Paris, France 

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