WORKS: Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
PERFORMER: Kempf Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1302
It says much for the intelligence controlling this performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio that only the final return of the grand lament churns and heaves as so much of the playing elsewhere could so easily have done in the wrong hands. Throughout the long, generous first movement of Tchaikovsky’s memorial to Nikolai Rubinstein, Kempf reins in his grander manner to keep the argument on the move; French violinist Pierre Bensaid and Armenian cellist Alexander Chaushian may not be naturally big players, but they know how to spin a line and lift it when necessary into the higher life. Everything tells when it should, above all the one truly inspiring melody in Tchaikovsky’s most personal vein which eases the tension of a keenly sprung development and fades beautifully into the most sensitively handled coda I’ve heard on disc.
The second-movement theme and variations are even finer. Sample Variation 3 if you’ve ever doubted Kempf’s genius for placing elusive fantasy above technique, or Var. 9 for the string-players’ ultimate legato poetry. If introspection reigns supreme, the extrovert variations are no less well-handled; it’s hard to imagine the fugue ever being cut when it dances along as keenly as this, and the long-winded finale never outstays its welcome.
Rachmaninov’s early shot at the genre, so obviously inspired by Tchaikovsky at the start, merits a more wholesomely lush approach, though the slightly blowsier production makes a difference; can it really be the same venue? No matter; these are easily the best interpretations in first-rate sound, and the Kempf Trio’s Tchaikovsky even holds its own against the equally characterful – though very different – Kagan-Gutman-Richter performance on Live Classics. David Nice