Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov: Piano Trio in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky,Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Trio in C minor
PERFORMER: Bekova Sisters
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9672
With his special predilection for composing colourful orchestral and stage works, it is hardly surprising that Rimsky-Korsakov was far less engaged by the medium of chamber music. Indeed, the composer admitted as much in his autobiography, leaving this Trio of 1897 incomplete and unpublished until 30 years after his death when it was first released in an edition by his son-in-law Maximilian Steinberg.

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How far Steinberg influenced the course of the composition is unclear, yet the Trio rarely betrays Rimsky’s authorship, with absolutely no hints of the exoticisms of Sheherazade or Antar. Although there is an unmistakable Russian accent in the melancholy theme that dominates the expansive first movement, Rimsky seems more indebted to the Germans, with Schumann looming particularly large in the whimsical scherzo. Nonetheless despite its lack of real individuality and the rather sprawling structure, this is an attractive work which is delivered with real commitment by the Bekova Sisters.

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The coupling of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in a new and imaginative arrangement by the Bekovas is bound to arouse controversy. At issue is the extent to which the addition of a solo violin and cello enhances the impact of a work originally conceived for piano. To my mind the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by a good margin in the grotesque numbers such as ‘Gnomus’ or ‘Baba-Yaga’s Hut’, though ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ is somewhat less convincing, particularly in the final bars where the transcription somehow fails to communicate the necessary degree of grandeur. Erik Levi