Notes and Editorial Reviews
PIANO TRIOS NO. 1: Arensky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Kapustin
Beethoven Tr Bonn
CAVI 8553277 (78:47)
Piano Trio No. 1 in d,
Piano Trio No. 1 in g, “
Piano Trio No. 1 in c,
Founded in 2005, the Beethoven Trio Bonn consists of Tokyo-born pianist Rinko Hama and two Moscow-born string players, violinist Mikhail Ovrutsky and cellist Grigory Alumyan. The latter are first-chair players in the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn. The group has made one prior recording, of Beethoven and Mendelssohn trios, which may or may not still be available in Germany. This new release features the first-numbered trios by Anton Arensky, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich, along with a work for piano trio by Nikolai Kapustin that carries no number. Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich are undoubtedly greater composers than Arensky, but they are represented here by pieces that are brief and very early, if far from negligible. Arensky’s D-Minor Trio, on the other hand, is a mature work and perhaps his finest. I know of no other compositions by this composer that match it for unflagging melodic inspiration and emotional intensity. It seems to me that this piece would be appropriate theme music for a poignant story by Turgenev or Chekhov. In actuality, Arensky dedicated it to the memory of a deceased colleague, the Russian cellist, composer, and music educator Karl Davydov.
This performance of the Arensky by the Beethoven Trio is one of the best I’ve heard. With very pronounced expressive shaping throughout, it is at the opposite pole from the well-played but bland one by the Kinsky Trio (Praga) that I reviewed in 35:6. The first movement receives a passionate statement, at a predominantly quick tempo, but with much flexibility and liberal application of rubato. The yearning main theme is compellingly shaped, the coda very drawn-out and mysterious. The Borodin Trio (Chandos) also employs much tempo flexibility in this movement but at a much more deliberate pace overall, adding nearly two minutes to the Bonn timing. In comparison, the Borodin treatment seems a bit heavy-handed, lacking the eloquence and sense of flow achieved by the Bonn players, who realize the emotional content of the movement more convincingly. The Scherzo is especially lively and playful in the Bonn rendition, with less slowing for the trio section than in performances by the Yuval Trio (Relief or Centaur) and especially the Borodin. The elegiac and achingly poignant slow movement is deeply felt and sensitively shaped, with some exquisite quiet playing and a special eloquence in the closing pages. The Finale is not so headlong as in the Yuval recording, but very impassioned. The tempo contrasts marked in the score are emphasized more than in the other performances with which I am familiar, but not at the expense of continuity. The reminiscence of the first movement’s main theme is taken very slowly, as though a ghostly apparition from the past, and is followed by a forceful, angry coda. In my earlier review I expressed a preference for the performance by the Arthur Grumiaux Piano Trio (Ricercar), which I credited with an “ideal combination of fervor, refinement, and tonal polish,” over the very good but more rough-hewn renditions of the Borodin and Yuval trios. That recording is no longer available, but I would rate this strongly characterized, deeply felt Bonn performance, although different, as its equal overall.
Sources differ on whether Rachmaninoff composed the first of his two “Elegiac” trios “when he was still a 17-year-old student in the composition class of Anton Arensky at the Moscow Conservatory,” as the notes for this recording have it, or “within a few days in January 1892,” when he would have been nearly 19, according to the notes for a recording by the Moscow Rachmaninov Trio, on Hyperion. Both sources agree that the composer premiered the work with two colleagues in Moscow on January 30, 1892, after which it disappeared for decades and was not published until 1947. Whether the product of a 17- or 19-year-old, this is a surprisingly accomplished and compelling work. Although clearly influenced by Tchaikovsky’s op. 50 Piano Trio, the Rachmaninoff piece displays more than a few hints of this composer’s distinctive voice, as well as considerable melodic interest and compositional skill. Its single movement lasts slightly under 15 minutes in this fervent and impassioned performance by the Bonn Beethoven Trio. The Moscow ensemble is persuasive with a more urgent and driven approach, but the Bonn players score with more polished string playing, flowing lyricism, and clearer textures, and notwithstanding their more expansive pacing there is no lack of power in their towering climaxes. The Bonn recording also benefits from superior sound.
Like the Rachmaninoff work, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1 is the product of a teenaged student, is in a single movement, and was not published until after its composer’s death. The last 22 measures of the piano part were missing from the materials on which the published edition was based and were supplied by the composer Boris Tishchenko, a Shostakovich student. In this early work, Shostakovich already sounds pretty much like himself, with slow, quiet music alternating with vehement outbursts, driving or scampering rhythms, and an underlying sense of uneasiness or ambivalence, although this piece is not so darkly colored as much of his later output. The Bonn players once again turn in an excellent performance, emphasizing tempo contrast and deploying much tonal weight in massive climaxes. The equally compelling performance by the Florestan Trio (Hyperion) is lighter in texture, spikier, and more integrated, with swifter pacing of the slow music.
Up to now, Nikolai Kapustin has been just a name to me, and Russian names can be amusing if you know what they mean. Kapustin’s could be translated as “cabbage man.” Born in 1937, he received classical training at the Moscow Conservatory but soon embarked on a career as a jazz pianist. Not surprisingly, his Divertimento for piano trio shows marked jazz influences. Although not much of a jazz aficionado, I enjoyed the piece. Following a playful opening
second movement, the longest of the four, is a suggestive of some of Ravel’s blues- or jazz-influenced music. It is followed by a spiky, propulsive
and an exuberant
. The Bonn players perform brilliantly and seem at home in the style. No other recordings of this piece appear to be available.
These excellent performances are recorded in spacious, realistic sound that is free from harshness, with solid, well-defined piano tone, excellent clarity and spatial definition, and an ideal balance among the instruments.
On the basis of this recording, the Beethoven Trio Bonn appears to be an excellent ensemble, and lovers of chamber music should hope for more recordings from this source. In the meantime, the present release is strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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