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Smetana, Ravel, Watkins: Piano Trios

Smetana / Ravel / Watkins / Weithaas
Release Date: 09/11/2012 
Label:  Cavi Music   Catalog #: 8553260   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bedrich SmetanaHuw WatkinsMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Marie-Elsabeth HeckerAntje WeithaasHuw WatkinsFlorian Donderer,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SMETANA Piano Trio in g. 1 RAVEL Piano Trio in a. 2 H. WATKINS Clarinet Trio, “Speak Seven Seas” 3 1 Antje Weithaas (vn); 1 Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (vc); 1,3 Huw Watkins (pn); 2,3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Florian Donderer (vn, va); 2 Tanja Tetzlaff (vc); 2 Lars Vogt (pn); 3 Sebastian Manz (cl) CAVI 8553260 (68:21) Live: Heimbach Spannungen Festival 2011

Here is another recording of live performances taken from the same 2011 Heimbach Spannungen Festival as another release you’ll find under the title “Winds and Strings,” in the Collections section of this issue. With the exception of Florian Donderer and Sebastian Manz, both of whom appear in the companion disc, the players here are different. Included on the present CD in the Ravel Trio is pianist and festival founder, Lars Vogt.

Smetana’s G-Minor Trio should be familiar enough to listeners from quite a few fine recordings, three of which I gave high marks to in reviews in 32:5 (Mendelssohn Piano Trio), 35:2 (Morgenstern Trio), and most recently, in 35:4 (Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio). There are others to consider too, most notably the Trio Wanderer’s version recommended with special pleading by Boyd Pomeroy in 34:5.

As I see from my review of Antje Weithaas’s Brahms sonatas in 32:3, not only did I not care much for her playing but I managed to misidentify her as a man. And Robert Bahr, in a recent letter to the editor, thought my mistake regarding repeats in Daniel Pienaar’s Goldberg Variations was an “awful blunder.” Apparently, he has no appreciation for my unrivaled mastery of the Grand Fallacy.

Smetana’s trio is made of rougher-hewn stuff than Brahms’s violin sonatas, and thus a bit more forgiving of Weithaas’s grainy tone and fairly intense vibrato, but the close-up recording amplifies the piercing shrillness of her high notes to a degree I find unpleasant. The audience erupts in enthusiastic applause at the end, so it may be the recording that’s at fault for what sounds glaring to my ear. If Smetana’s trio is well represented on disc, Ravel’s A-Minor Piano Trio has garnered more than twice as many recordings, which makes it difficult to sell this one. Admittedly, I find Florian Donderer’s violin much more pleasing in tone than Weithaas’s, and the ensemble, which also includes Tanja Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt, gives an atmospheric reading of the score. But in the end, I can’t say the performance is special or that it supplants other favorites, such as the Icicle Creek Piano Trio’s essaying of the score, reviewed in 32:5

So, we come finally to the premiere recording of Huw Watkins’s 2011 Clarinet Trio, a work unusual for its genre in that it substitutes a viola for the expected violin. It seems a strange choice to score a trio with two instruments that overlap so closely in range and timbre, but as it turns out the combination is effective.

Watkins is someone I’ve encountered before, both as composer and pianist. In 28:4, I reviewed a recording in which he performed the piano part in his Cello Sonata with his cellist brother Paul Watkins. As I said of that piece, “It’s very modern, but in a way that much contemporary British music is these days, which is to say it’s not something that provokes loathing and disgust.” Like the sonata, Watkins’s trio is also very modernistic, yet it’s not in the least off-putting or even that difficult to grasp. It definitely does not belong to the school of blips and bleeps evidenced by Jörg Widmann’s duos for violin and cello. Watkins’s piece is an example of the new modernism which allows for a degree of lyricism, consonance, and, heaven forfend, even the occasional romantic impulse. Don’t get me wrong; this is not Schumann, but Watkins’s trio is, above all else, musical in a way that invites repeated listening.

For the Smetana and Ravel there are alternatives which, frankly, are more satisfying, but if you’re interested in the Watkins, this is your only choice; and given that the composer is one of the players, I should think the performance is definitive.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 15 by Bedrich Smetana
Performer:  Marie-Elsabeth Hecker (Cello), Antje Weithaas (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855; Czech Republic 
Date of Recording: 06/11/2011 
Venue:  Live  Heimbach, Wasserkraftwerk der RWE AG, Ge 
Length: 27 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Speak Seven Seas, trio for clarinet, viola & piano by Huw Watkins
Performer:  Florian Donderer (Viola), Huw Watkins (Piano), Sebastian Manz (Clarinet)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2011 
Date of Recording: 06/10/2011 
Venue:  Live  Heimbach, Wasserkraftwerk der RWE AG, Ge 
Length: 13 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A minor by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Tanja Tetzlaff (Cello), Lars Vogt (Piano), Florian Donderer (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; France 
Date of Recording: 06/12/2011 
Venue:  Live  Heimbach, Wasserkraftwerk der RWE AG, Ge 
Length: 27 Minutes 8 Secs. 

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