ALBUM TITLE: Ravel * Saint-Saens
WORKS: Ravel: Piano Trio; Saint-Saëns: Piano Trio No. 2
PERFORMER: Fidelio Trio
CATALOGUE NO: RES10173
Full marks to whoever thought of pairing Ravel’s Piano Trio with Saint-Saëns’s second one. Not only do they offer plenty in the way of contrasting textures, but we can hear evidence of Ravel’s admiration for the older composer’s command of structure – not least in his development of the Basque zortzico rhythm (5 beats, tum tuum ti tuum ti): surprisingly, it’s Saint-Saëns who, in his scherzo, uses it in its pure form whereas Ravel, despite his Basque heritage, adds an extra three beats.
Both composers subscribed to the dogma that the true test of form is continuity of interest, and for me there’s not a dull moment anywhere on the disc. The Fidelio Trio’s virtuosity is of a high order, with Mary Dullea throwing off the piano fireworks in the Ravel ‘Pantoum’ with splendid élan. Balance between the three instruments is variable, with the violin occasionally overpowered by the piano, especially in the Saint-Saëns, where low piano octaves are rather obtrusive.
My only real regret is that, in the first movement of the Ravel (after figure 7), Ravel’s indications are ignored for alternating bars in strict tempo with those ‘held back’ (en retenant). I’m not saying for a moment that it’s easy to bring off, but this sense of resistance to the ongoing flow is crucial in maintaining the overall anxious, querying tone of the movement, audible elsewhere in the highly chromatic harmonies. The final C major is a hard-won victory.