BBC Music Magazine
A magnificent set of works from the Smetana Trio
Erik Levi applauds an imaginative programme by three very different composers, superbly performed
Arensky • Rachmaninov • Zemlinsky
Arensky: Piano Trio No. 1; Rachmaninov: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor; Zemlinsky: Piano Trio Smetana Trio Supraphon SU 4258-2 73:40 mins This deftly-compiled programme turns out to be an absolute winner. Although all three piano trios, composed within the space of four years, share similar musical characteristics, not least an intensely emotional language packed with swooning melodies and a propensity to clothe them in fullblooded quasi-orchestral textures, there are sufficient differences in each work’s musical orientation to provide ample variety of musical experience. Brahms is the obvious model for Zemlinsky’s 1896 Trio (originally conceived for clarinet, cello and piano), evident in the structural design and rhythmic ambiguity of Zemlinsky’s writing; yet there are also touches of exploratory harmony here and there that anticipate the composer’s later style. In contrast, Arensky’s more stylistically eclectic First Trio of
1894 appears to look back nostalgically at an earlier Romantic age dominated by Mendelssohn and Schumann and revels in a succession of gorgeously memorable thematic ideas. Arguably, the most original work is by the 19-year-old Rachmaninov. Admittedly Tchaikovsky is a pervasive influence on his single movement Trio élégiaque No. 1 of 1892, but the mysterious string patterns that open the work, as well as later passage work in the turbulent middle section, are strikingly individual.
The Smetana Trio’s performances, as captured in Supraphon’s warm recording, are totally compelling. It’s no mean feat that the players not only negotiate the ebb and flow of the musical argument in each work with tremendous flexibility of nuance, but that their imaginative approach to balance and texturing ensures that the listener is completely involved in the drama from first bar to last.
The Smetana Trio’s performances are totally compelling