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Chausson, Debussy & Rachmaninov Piano Trios

Chausson / Wiener Schubert Trio / Debussy
Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Nimbus   Catalog #: 6159  
Composer:  Ernest ChaussonClaude DebussySergei Rachmaninov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Wiener Schubert Trio
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHAUSSON Piano Trio in g. DEBUSSY Piano Trio in G. RACHMANINOFF Piano Trio in d Vienna Schubert Trio NIMBUS ALLIANCE 6159 (2 CDs: 101:57)

Back in Fanfare 35:2, I came down fairly hard on another Nimbus Alliance release featuring the Vienna Schubert Trio in performances of Schubert’s two great piano trios. Even had it appeared on its own, Read more there would have been little to recommend it, given the current competition, but it didn’t appear on its own; it had the misfortune to arrive simultaneously with absolutely revelatory readings of the same works by the phenomenally talented Dali Trio.

What I found objectionable in the Vienna Schubert Trio’s performances was the thick, ponderous, leaden playing that seemed to be heavily influenced by first violinist Boris Kuschnir’s Russian background and his training under Valentin Berlinsky of the Borodin Quartet. As noted in the review, the Vienna Schubert Trio disbanded in 1993, so neither its Schubert album, recorded in 1991, nor the current program, recorded in 1986, is new.

In light of my earlier encounter with the ensemble’s Schubert, it was only reasonable that I should wonder how Chausson’s and Debussy’s refined French sensibilities would be affected by a Russian accent. But I needn’t have wondered too long, for once again, the Vienna Schubert Trio has been trumped by a brand-new and almost exactly simultaneous release of the Chausson Trio on Naxos performed by upstate New York’s Meadowmount Trio, an ensemble I’ve singled out before as a favorite in Dvo?ák’s “Dumky” Trio. The Naxos CD, by the way—reviewed by Steven Kruger in 35:4—couples Chausson’s G-Minor Trio with the composer’s popular Concerto for Piano, Violin, and String Quartet performed by the Wihan Quartet.

While Chausson studied at the Paris Conservatory, his main teacher was Massenet, but the young pupil audited classes being taught by Franck. Thus, Chausson’s own music became a purée processed in the blender of Massenet’s opera-oriented, perfumed, melodic profusions and Franck’s organ-oriented chromatic harmony and quasi-religious mysticism. One hears this immediately in the trio’s indescribably haunting opening—so sensual yet so mysterious. The sensuality is palpable in the Vienna Schubert Trio’s performance, but in an A-B comparison with the Meadowmount Trio, the Vienna Schubert Trio doesn’t quite capture that subtle French mystique. Still, I have to concede that this is a huge improvement over the group’s Schubert, which, ironically, you’d think would be right up the alley of an ensemble with Viennese provenance.

Chausson’s piano trio has been lucky on disc, having enjoyed a number of fine recordings, including but not limited to those by the Beaux Arts, Yuval, and Wanderer trios. Among late 19th-century piano trios it’s one of the most arrestingly beautiful, so you owe it to yourself to acquire a recording of it if you don’t already have one. The Vienna Schubert Trio’s version wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s very, very good, and coupled with the Debussy and Rachmaninoff, as it is here, this makes for a most attractive package.

Although Debussy lived most of his life in the 19th century, because he was such an innovator and musically progressive thinker, we tend to view him as a 20th-century composer. Interestingly, however, his G-Major Piano Trio, written in 1880 when he was 18, actually predates by one year Chausson’s trio. Amazingly, the teenaged Debussy’s score is more exploratory of new sonorities and harmonic possibilities than is Chausson’s year-later effort written when he was 26. The Debussy of Impressionism is still a ways off, but already in evidence are tendencies toward modal melodic patterns and harmonies blurred by changing chords over sustained pedals.

The Florestan Trio made a fine recording of the Debussy for Hyperion in 1999, but the English ensemble has nothing over the Vienna Schubert Trio in this piece. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I continue to be surprised, and pleasantly so, by how responsive the ensemble’s players are to this French repertoire.

The opposite of Debussy, Rachmaninoff lived most of his life in the 20th century, but so many of his beloved works were written either before or shortly after the turn of the century, and his music is of such a romantic persuasion, that we tend to think of him as a master from an earlier age. And indeed, his Trio élégiaque in D Minor, in memory of Tchaikovsky, was written in 1893. No doubt because it has the name Rachmaninoff attached to it, as well as the distinction of being an offering in commemoration of another famous composer, the piece has always retained a place in the standard repertoire, though it’s not as musically rewarding a piece as either the Chausson or Debussy written a decade earlier.

The one drawback of this two-disc set is the short playing time of the second disc. Ravel’s A-Minor Piano Trio of 1914 plays for about 26 minutes; it would have easily fit and made a wonderful complement to this program. Otherwise, recommended for beautiful playing and excellent recording.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins Read less

Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in G minor, Op. 3 by Ernest Chausson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Wiener Schubert Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881; France 
Trio for Piano and Strings in G major by Claude Debussy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Wiener Schubert Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1879-1880; France 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 in D minor, Op. 9 "Trio élégiaque" by Sergei Rachmaninov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Wiener Schubert Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Russia 

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