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Arensky . Shostakovich Arensky Piano Trio No 1, Op 32 Shostakovich Piano Trios – No 1, Op 8; No 2, Op 67 Trio Con Brio Copenhagen Orchid F ORC100181 (70’ • DDD)
The teenage Shostakovich’s singlemovement First Trio is obviously not a patch on the mature second – the structural seams show and the artful transitions between sections over-compensate. But it remains an extremely interesting piece from the personal point of view, as a love letter to the first serious passion in the composer’s life, and historically too, as a bold essay in large-scale sonata form leading up to the First Symphony. Trio Con Brio Copenhagen’s affectionate swooping and sliding in the Scriabinesque lyrical sections are entirely appropriate to the idiom, and their passionate momentum in the fast themes is equally spot on.
Arensky’s D minor Trio is a brilliant choice of coupling, not only because it is one of his best pieces (the last two movements don’t quite live up to the promise of the first two) but because it showcases the late-Romantic environment Shostakovich was clearly trying to emulate. Trio Con Brio bring lovely flexibility and breadth of phrasing to the first movement, and the Scherzo has charm, wit and dexterity aplenty (a dab less pedal from the piano and it would have been ideal for me). All in all, this is the kind of performance that gives you a fair chance of falling in love with the piece if you haven’t already done so.
In this context Shostakovich’s Second Trio emerges not just as a flawless, fully mature masterpiece but as a wholesale rethinking of what the genre can encompass – he was standing on the shoulders of the commemorative trios of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov but at the same time surveying far wider horizons. It is hard to give a performance that does not radiate passion and drama, so readily does the music jump off the page. But it is harder still to negotiate the structural accumulations with the aplomb the
Copenhagen ensemble brings to them. The strings add klezmer-like glides in the finale, in a way closing the arc of the album from their romantic account of the First Trio. This is the kind of intervention that risks adding nothing and may even detract from more important issues. But not this time. Here it feels as though everything adds up to a completely thought-through and deeply felt interpretation. And bravo again to the violinist and cellist for following the score in adding mutes at the climax (it’s astonishing how many recordings fail to follow this expressively vital instruction).
In every way, then, this is an outstanding achievement, and I only hope the disc gets the acclaim it deserves. David Fanning
Brahms String Sextets – No 1, Op 18; No 2, Op 36 Belcea Quartet with Tabea Zimmermann va Jean-Guihen Queyras vc Alpha F ALPHA792 (76’ • DDD)
I hadn’t thought that Brahms’s string sextets offered much opportunity for musical risk-taking but the Belcea Quartet and friends have convinced me otherwise. To see what I mean, start at 6’17” in the Andante ma moderato of the First Sextet (two-thirds of the way or so through the movement), where the musicians pare their collective tone down to a mere wisp, as if each were bowing with a single, glowing hair. Playing with little or no vibrato, the result is ethereally delicate – I was put in mind of a heavenly hurdy-gurdy – that renders Brahms’s scoring as a stroke of colouristic genius. Then, in the Scherzo that follows, the ensemble dig in with a vengeance to create a rough, rustic sound that’s not always pretty. This kind of stark contrast can be found throughout both works and gave me an entirely new perspective on pieces I thought I knew quite well.
Listen, say, at 7’25” in the development section of the Second Sextet’s opening movement where, again, the Belcea imbue a quiet passage with a sense of otherworldly fragility, and note how this helps to set up a memorably dramatic moment in the transition to the recapitulation, which is given here with a tonal intensity the likes of which I’ve never encountered before in this music. There’s drama, too, in the glorious Poco adagio, whose outer sections are played with a hushed and patient sense of rapturous melancholy, while the central Più animato, with its nervous dotted rhythms and obsessive imitative counterpoint, is given with exceptional ferocity.
These are such lovable works, full of lyricism and charm, and these performances don’t skimp on that. I was taken in immediately in Op 18 by the way cellist Antoine Lederlin phrases the exquisite opening melody, and he’s even more persuasive in the finale – his portamento had me positively swooning.
I do have a few cavils. For instance, I wish the tempo for the Poco allegro finale of Op 36 was a little more relaxed, as it sounds like a plain old allegro to me. But while I can think of numerous recordings of these works that offer affection and graciousness in abundance, I can’t think of another that’s as ear-opening as it is warm-hearted. Andrew Farach‑Colton
Hindemith Flute Sonataa. Oboe Sonatab. Clarinet Sonatac. Bassoon Sonatad. Tenor Horn (Althorn) Sonatae Les Vents Français (aEmmanuel Pahud fl bFrançois Leleux ob cPaul Meyer cl dGilbert Audin bn e Radovan Vlatković ten hn) with Éric Le Sage pf Warner Classics F 9029 50444-1 (62’ • DDD)
Previous releases by Les Vents Français have tended to concentrate on ensemble pieces, trios, quintets and so on, with occasional contributions by their ‘house pianist’, Éric Le Sage. Sonatas feature rarely – Beethoven’s for horn being a notable exception – so this new all‑Hindemith album featuring five of his sonatas for solo woodwind instruments (those for cor anglais, horn, and alto saxophone are omitted here) with Le Sage’s accompaniment presents the group in a different, soloistic light.
4 GRAMOPHONE 4 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2022