Rachmaninoff: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor; Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor; Pieces, Opp. 2 & 6

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor; Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor; Pieces, Opp. 2 & 6
PERFORMER: Moscow Rachmaninoff Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67178
Received wisdom has it that Rachmaninoff couldn’t write chamber music; even his best chamber works – like the Second Piano Trio and the Cello Sonata – are routinely dismissed as sounding either like transcriptions of orchestral pieces or virtuoso piano music with solo string embellishments. There may be some truth in those allegations, but when you hear both trios played as persuasively as they are here (and in such well-balanced recordings), it hardly seems to matter. So what if the textures are sometimes piano-heavy? There are plenty of fine, long-breathed melodies, and the first movement of the Second Trio is one of the younger Rachmaninoff’s most ingenious and broadly successful large structures. The confident lyrical sweep of the Second Symphony’s first movement doesn’t feel so very far away.

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The two sets of miniatures don’t aim so high, but there’s plenty of melodic charm and a hint or two of poker-faced humour – though perhaps the members of the Moscow Rachmaninoff Trio could have made a little more of that. In general, the performances of the two trios are a little less outgoing than those of the Copenhagen Trio on Kontrapunkt, but the restraint can be very telling, as in the sombre coda of the Second Trio. It certainly doesn’t preclude dark intensity. Recommended to anyone seeking a rounder view of Rachmaninoff. Stephen Johnson