Tchaikovsky & Babajanian: Piano Trios / Gluzman, Moser, Sudbin

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This recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio might well may be among the best. In Russian chamber music, a rather special tradition evolved around the...
This recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio might well may be among the best.

In Russian chamber music, a rather special tradition evolved around the piano trio, with a number of composers turning to the genre to write ‘instrumental requiems’. First out was Tchaikovsky with his Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50, ‘à la mémoire d’un grand artiste’, and he was followed by composers such as Rachmaninov, Arensky and Shostakovich. In the case of Tchaikovsky’s trio, the ‘grand artiste’ was the pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, and Tchaikovsky chose the trio genre as he felt that a piece for solo piano would be too lightweight and one with orchestral accompaniment would be too showy. The work is in two movements, a Pezzo elegiaco (‘elegiac piece’) and a set of variations, and it begins with the cello playing a moving lament which sets the tone for the entire first movement. The theme returns at the end of the second movement in the form of an impassioned funeral march. Seventy years later, when the Armenian composer and pianist Arno Babajanian (1921—83) wrote his Piano Trio in F sharp minor, he didn’t give it any subtitle, but there’s a grandeur and breadth of scale which rivals Tchaikovsky’s work – and the second movement is thoroughly elegiac in character. The trio is Babajanian’s best-known work, composed in the Romantic style of Rachmaninov, but also rooted in Armenian folk music, melodically as well as rhythmically. Performing the two works are Vadim Gluzman and Yevgeny Sudbin, both with Russian roots, joined by cellist Johannes Moser, and the three close the album with Sudbin’s arrangement of a brief Tango by Alfred Schnittke.



I will begin with what, strictly speaking, is merely the “other piece” on this disc: the piano trio by Arno Babajanian. I have never heard of him or what appears to be his best-known work, but the outstanding recording and startling advocacy of this starry chamber group makes me think I should have.

The piano trio opens with the violin and cello playing a dark theme together. The piano comes in with some lovely runs reminiscent of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto (no bad thing, in my view). The second movement starts with a long violin melody over a syncopated piano accompaniment, not a million miles from Korngold or Prokofiev’s second violin concerto. The final movement opens with something of a shock, a jazzy passage in 5/8 time, but then the cello comes in with a lovely theme, and the two moods alternate until the end.

It is a delightful work with strong melodies and rhythmic complexity, which this trio plainly adore. It is wonderfully recorded, giving plenty of power to Johannes Moser’s cello work. I shall be taking it off my shelves frequently.

I have so far had to make do for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio opus 50 with an old Naxos recording by the Ashkenazy Trio (8.550467), still available. The coupling is Arensky’s trio, and I would not want to be without that. But this disc blows that version out of the water, both in terms of performance and recording. I cannot pretend to have heard all the hundreds of recordings of the work by world-renowned musicians which are out there – but this well may be among the best.

Once again, the recording of Moser’s cello has all the resonance of the real instrument; Sudbin’s piano is alert but self-effacing when it needs to be; Gluzman’s violin soars and inspires. Above all, the trio give the impression they are listening to each other and adjusting their performances accordingly.

The disc ends with a little bon-bon which I assume the group put in because they were enjoying themselves so much: the Tango from the opera Life with an Idiot by Alfred Schnittke. It is not really necessary, since the disc lasts almost seventy minutes without it, but it is great fun, for us as well as for the artists.

– MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: October 04, 2019

  • UPC: 7318599923727

  • Catalog Number: BIS-2372

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1