Thursday, 16 March 2017

Dusting off some French Piano Trios

Tonight I decided to listen to an album that's been sitting on the virtual shelf collecting e-dust for a while now, the Joachim Trio's first collection of French piano trios for Naxos.

It opens with Debussy's Trio No 1 in A, which is classic Debussy, the fluidity and gentle beauty of the music is utterly captivating. The way he can carry the soul off on a journey, like a leaf floating down a river, here it eddies, here it ebbs, swirls and stills, but always moving and always enchanting. The short scherzo in the second movement is a favourite bit for me, a rollicking interruption to the sumptuousness of the first movement before a return to the slower gloss of the third. And the finale is something of them both, it has pace and grandeur, but still with the Debussy sheen.

Ravel's drama comes next, opening with the supposed 'Modere' which I take it means moderately. The first few bars are apt to that description and juxtapose intriguingly with the high finish of Debussy, but then we're launched into a hectic patter of piano with no hint of moderation. Only then, being Ravel, we are plunged back into a slow and evocative passage with the violin riding above the sombre cello and the piano adding high and low lights to fully round out what, on its own, would have to be described as a swoon. But then comes the 'Pantoum Assez vif', a high-paced rhythmic jolt reminiscent of the Assez vif movement in his String Quartet which is simply stunning.

Again there's a mood change as the third movement dives into the depths, slow and dark, as fluid as Debussy but with water more icy and the colour of Amber. From this depth we rise high as the violin turns bird and takes wing, with the cello a playful bear cub chasing it. At least, that's where my mind went listening to it this time. And it ends on an equal high to Debussy's trio.

The album finishes with Florent Schmitt's Tres lent, a short but poignant piece that shares the fluidity of the first two but lies very much in the sadder, slower end with no showy flights to lift us back to the joys of Debussy or Ravel's finale.

While all three composers share the fluidity and somewhat sumptuous feel to the music, they all have distinctive moods behind their works. What makes this recording so compelling is the way the Joachim Trio capture those moods. There's no mistaking which composer you're listening to at any point in time. They really know their stuff.

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