Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky: Piano Trios

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Champs Hill Records
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Piano Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor; Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
PERFORMER: Gould Piano Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 012

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With its epic sweep and passages of intoxicating virtuosity, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio seems the ideal work for high profile soloists wishing to perform chamber music.

The catalogue boasts many recordings featuring an all-star cast, the most recent of which from Lang Lang, Vadim Repin and Mischa Maisky on DG received a strong endorsement in these pages (Christmas issue, 2009). Yet even greater dividends can accrue from performances given by long-established chamber ensembles that have grappled with the work’s many interpretative challenges, not least unifying its sprawling design. Such qualities are very much to the fore in this beautifully recorded performance from the Gould Piano Trio.

Its players follow the composer’s directions to the letter, bringing a natural flow to the various difficult changes in tempo in the first movement and mapping its emotional narrative most convincingly. Likewise they bring freshness, panache, charm and infinite variety to the second movement variations.

Highlights include a brilliantly characterised fugue and the ensuing impressionistic Andante flebile which recalls the melancholic introversion from the opening of the piece.

In the finale, Benjamin Frith impressively negotiates Tchaikovsky’s full-blooded piano writing without coarsening the tone. If the performance here seems less exultant than in the DG recording, the Goulds are more compelling in plumbing the depths of despair in the coda. 

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Both ensembles offer the early Rachmaninov Trio as a coupling, and although there’s little to choose between the two versions the Goulds adopt more subtle timbral effects in the mysterious string passage work that accompanies some of the impassioned melodies. Erik Levi