GMCD 7242 – Piano Trios by Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninov
The Barbican Piano Trio, Gabrielle Lester – Violin, Robert Max – Cello, James Kirby – Piano
BBC Music Magazine 11.02
Tchaikovsky dedicated his Piano Trio ‘to the memory of a great artist’, his pianist friend Nikolai Rubinstein; Rachmaninov used the same phrase to preface his D minor Trio élégiaque, a requiem for Tchaikovsky’s own untimely death. The length of that work – only a few minutes short of Tchaikovsky’s 50-minute epic – precludes its inclusion here. Rachmaninov composed this one-movement G minor Trio élégiaque while Tchaikovsky was still alive and well. It breathes the contours of the master’s lyric style in every bar, and even quotes a turbulent figure from Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony; Gabrielle Lester and Robert Max highlight it dramatically, so it’s odd that Max doesn’t mention the helpful link in his booklet note.
Rachmaninov’s first Trio, though, is only a generically lugubrious curtain-raiser to the main event. I wondered whether the players, especially the pianist James Kirby, called upon to dominate Tchaikovsky’s second-movement variations Rubinstein-style, could manage the big guns so fulsomely demanded. In fact they don’t really try to, which actually makes this the most companionable performance of a work where the hyper-Romanticism can be wearing. Loud dynamics are kept in check, and the most magical moment is the melody Tchaikovsky pulls out of his mourning top-hat halfway through the development – beautifully sustained here. While several of the variations, especially the lilting waltz, could do with a touch more panache, the fugue is keenly pointed, and the finale springs and bounces in such a way as never to outstay its welcome. There may not be the creativity of the Russian performance dominated by Richter which will always be my benchmark, but the pleasures remain well-tempered throughout.