Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio in a.
Piano Trio No. 2 in e
CLAUDIO CR5890 (55: 27)
The pairing of Ravel’s sole Piano Trio with the more popular of Shostakovich’s two piano trios, the No. 2 in E Minor, is not unique, but it’s not all that common either. I came across three such listings: by the Mondrian Trio on Challenge, the Fujita Piano Trio on Intim Musik, and the TrioMats (one word) on Daphne. Sorry to say, I’m not familiar with
any of them, but Bart Verhaeghe gave the Fujita account a reasonably positive review in 32:1.
Here we have a fairly youngish-looking ensemble of players billing themselves as the Ibuki Trio—Ben Wragg, violin; Laura Anstee, cello; and Kan Tomita, piano. They are London-met musicians who first came together as teenagers in 1995 while studying at the Purcell School. No explanation is offered for the name of the group, Ibuki, which—take your pick—could be a reference to a Japanese mountain, actor, politician, or action figure from the video game,
. The recording at hand, only now released, was originally made in 2008, and, according to the group’s official website, is the first and only recording the ensemble has produced.
The question is why? Without a doubt, this is the loveliest, most atmospheric, and most idiomatic performance of the Ravel trio to come my way since I gushed over the Icicle Creek Piano Trio’s Con Brio recording of the piece in 32:5; and if it’s possible, the Ibuki Trio is even better. Just listen to the way pianist Tomita tickles the keys in the
movement, and the way that Wragg and Anstee dance around him like figures flitting by in silhouette. But it’s not just Ravel’s scherzo movement that’s informed and infused by this level of musicianship. It never ceases to amaze me how a chamber ensemble, be it a string quartet or, in this case, a piano trio, can seemingly appear out of nowhere and simply dominate the field in a widely recorded standard-repertoire work, but the Ibuki Trio has managed just that when it comes to the Ravel.
As for the Shostakovich, I won’t say that the Ibuki’s performance outclasses the David Trio’s account I drooled over in 35:3, but the Ibuki’s players have a rather different interpretive take on the score, which makes their reading every bit as ear-catching. Theirs is a warmer and altogether more humorous reading of the piece in contrast to the David’s starker and more angular approach, which emphasizes the irony and parody in Shostakovich’s music. For the Ibuki, some of the piece is just plain funny, without the caustic overlay of sarcasm.
Once again, the scherzo-like second movement is a real standout. The whole thing is a hoot, but you have to listen especially for the cello grunts and groans starting at 1:16. I don’t mean to be crude, but it sounds like a constipated hippo straining to move its bowels. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cellist put this particular spin on the part before, but it’s just hilarious.
Claudio wants us to know in large, boldface type that this is no ordinary CD; it’s what the company calls “High Definition,” a “192Hz/24-bit recording.” We’re also informed that there’s a DVD-A version available, a format which apparently hasn’t sparked much interest among the industry or consumers because titles are few and far between. In any case, whatever recording equipment and techniques were used to make this CD, the results are nothing short of amazing. There’s a clarity and openness to the sound from which the ensemble emerges in an almost holographic-like virtual reality.
I must wonder aloud again why the Ibuki Trio hasn’t already recorded major chunks of the mainstream piano trio literature. It will be a terrible loss if this exceptional ensemble doesn’t embark, posthaste, on a crash course to record it all. Meanwhile, this is going on my provisional Want List for 2013, and I would urge you to make haste to acquire this release.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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