WORKS: Shostakovich: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2; Schnittke: Piano Trio (arr. from String Trio)
PERFORMER: Kempf Trio
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1482
Good recordings of Shostakovich’s brilliant, tragic Second Piano Trio are already abundant, starting with the composer’s own mesmerising 1945 recording with Tsiganov and Shirinsky (available on Doremi), but this new BIS version from Freddy Kempf and partners is one of the best. The bleak, vertiginously-spaced textures of the opening – cello and violin soaring high above the piano’s bass line – and the hectic, defiant energy of the Scherzo have seldom been better caught.
BIS’s demonstration-class recording is a great help here. The spine-chilling effect of the opening pages, with strings in their extreme registers, is enhanced by the icy precision of Pierre Bensaid’s flautando violin harmonics. The early single-movement C minor Trio is handy to have coupled with its later, bigger cousin. This is also given superb treatment, its bittersweet lyricism and spiky sardonic episodes containing some of the first premonitions of the symphonic thinker Shostakovich would become.
But for me the disc’s highlight is Schnittke’s Trio – a 1992 recomposition of the string trio he composed in 1985 for the Alban Berg Foundation to mark the centenary of Berg’s birth. ‘Classical’ gestures and cadential formulae, sometimes radiantly tonal, are subtly distorted and juxtaposed with more dissonant ‘modern’ material and surges of Slavic melancholy.
There are other versions, but this one is the first to make me think this fretful, aching, angry work is truly on a level with the Shostakovich. Kempf and his colleagues project an intensity of involvement that is utterly convincing, and really integrate the second movement’s distorted reflections of the first so that nothing sounds inessential. The SACD recording has remarkable presence. Calum MacDonald