Shostakovich • Ravel: Piano Trios
There is a surprising affinity between Ravel’s haunted, twilight Piano Trio and Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 with its ethereal opening of cello harmonics followed in canon by violin in a lower register. Both works were written against the background of war, and have often been coupled on disc before this, the Smetana Trio’s first venture into French repertory.
The Smetana’s performance of the Ravel is not coolly ‘Classical’, but fully alive to its poignancy and inventive colouring. Pianist Jitka ∫echová starts a touch slower than Ravel’s metronome mark, yet she and her colleagues observe Ravel’s relative tempos scrupulously, and the music – given time to breathe – becomes unusually expressive. You can hear where Ravel’s pupil Vaughan Williams got several ideas – in the first movement’s eerie ending, for example – and the powerfully rendered third movement ‘Passacaille’ is suitably contrasted with the second movement ‘Pantoum’ and the shimmering finale.
The two Shostakovich Trios are, if anything, even more impressive. In No. 1, a youthful work inspired by love, the Smetanas bring out its playful self-awareness yet give the central episode’s guileless, almost Arensky-style sweetness its due. The wry and brittle character of No. 2 is compellingly realised, with a scherzo both exhilarating and sarcastic, and a weighty chaconne (a close cousin of the passacaglia form used by Ravel in his third movement). Meanwhile, the bitter final dance acts as an effective foil to the finale’s dream-like recollections of the eerie first movement and the chaconne.