Smetana • Ravel • Watkins
Chamber music may have moved some way from its traditional domestic setting, but the enormous turbines of a hydroelectric power station make for an expected backdrop. Lars Vogt’s Spannungen festival first opened its doors at the Heimbach Hydropower Station in 1998. As with previous Spannungen releases, these performances from the 2011 festival feature a mixing and matching of personnel, with inspiration generally running high in these three trios captured on three successive days.
Huw Watkins features as composer and pianist in the world premiere of his hauntingly beautiful Trio for clarinet, viola and piano. It is a work whose questioning phrases certainly bear repeated listening, and deserves to find a place in the repertoire. Watkins is also pianist for Smetana’s impassioned Piano Trio, joined by violinist Antje Weithaas and cellist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker for a performance that is alive to every fluctuating nuance. The pacing of the second movement is especially fine, and they take no prisoners in the Finale.
It is only with Ravel’s Piano Trio that things become a little workaday. There are beautiful moments, but the Pantoum and Final periodically lack direction and fail to take wing. Nonetheless, the Smetana and Watkins are certainly worth the price of the disc.