Rachmaninoff: The Elegiac Piano Trios
Audio CD | Import
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No matter what your opinion of the composer, these Piano Trios represent two of the most ravishing inspired chamber works ever written. There are moments reminiscent of the panache of Chausson, the melancholy of Schubert, the playfulness of Saint-Saens, and the pathos of Shostakovich yet the trios ultimately maintain an identity uniquely their own. Recorded in 1986, the Beaux Arts Trio (in arguably their most esteemed line-up of Menahem Pressler, Isidore Cohen, and Bernard Greenhouse) as well were in top form and deliver performances that can hardly be bettered. An absolute must for all chamber music fans.
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Check the samples and I think you will agree.
*Warning: this review directed to rock and roll people and hell raisers. Yep, those guys.
Oh, and the music's superb!
The Elegiac Trios were composed in 1893 and 1894 as a tribute to the memory of Rachmaninoff's mentor, composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, who had tragically commited suicide by drinking unboiled water, tainted with cholera bacteria. They reflect the obvious sorrow Rachmaninoff must have felt at the loss of his friend, and are the most somber pieces to emerge from his pen. Like Isle of the Dead, the subject of death is rendered with drama and pathos. Yet unlike Isle, the trios treat death in a more wistful and less defiant tone; the trios are more of a eulogy than the overwhelming catharsis of Die Toteninsel.
The Beaux Arts Trio is more than up to the task of performing this music of passion and loss. Founded in 1955, the Beaux Arts is one of the most renowned of chamber music ensembles. The First Trio is a one movement piece, which beautifully and energetically encapsulises all the emotions that Rachmaninoff clearly intended. They especially evince the piece's depth and maturity (which would be surprising for any other composer of twenty years of age, save the dark, enigmatic Rachmaninoff).
The Second Trio is a massive composition, written in three movements, with a playing time of 47 minutes, quite long by standards of chamber music, and longer than any of Rachmaninoff's works for piano and orchestra (including the unedited version of the Third Concerto). Both trios are anchored by the forthright pianism of Pressler, whose range conveys the whole palette of Rachmaninovian emotions, at times forceful, at others gentle and compassionate, yet always persuasively. Cohen's violin imparts the life themes with dignity, with an unsettling mixture of dolce and con funebre. Greenhouse's cello is warm, and full of vibrant colour and texture, yet always reminding the listener death's inevitability.
As a unit, the members of the Beaux Arts execute the piece with all the polish, fortitude and panache of a Special Forces platoon. Fortunately for this listener, this recording was my introduction to the Elegiac Trios, for you can hear the care and commitment that the musicians have for this work. Like all virtuoso ensembles, the Beaux Arts relate the piece with individuality, allowing the listener to hear each instrument discretely. Yet, what separates the Beaux Arts from lesser groups is their ability to communicate the music with one voice and singularity of purpose.
The recording itself by Philips has a very warm and three-dimensional sound; this is one of the few CDs I own where I don't have to turn the treble down much. It features a full frequency range, allowing the listener to soak in every nuance and subtlety, yet does not possess an annoyingly vast dynamic range that causes you to run for the volume knob every five minutes.
To sum up: This recording will imbue you with sorrow for Tchaikovsky's passing, a great respect for Rachmaninoff's gesture and pleasure for your ears, soul and mind.