GMCD 7242 – Piano Trios by Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninov

The Barbican Piano Trio, Gabrielle Lester – Violin, Robert Max – Cello, James Kirby – Piano

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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.
David Nice

**** SOUND

MDC Classical Express July 02

We are not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to CD recordings of these two great Russian chamber works, and so it is particularly pleasing to welcome these fine, rewarding performances to the catalogue. The Barbican Piano Trio have the full measure of this glorious music and their playing throughout is imbued with a real sense for the tragic, melancholy nature of these pieces. They possess a wonderfully blended tonal warmth and technical purity that sometimes reminds one of the late, great Beaux Arts Trio, although one is bound to say that the Barbican’s playing often has greater vibrancy and displays more individual character, thus preventing the textures from becoming too smooth or muddy, a frequent problem in this genre. The Rachmaninov in particular receives an especially beautiful performance of real luminous clarity and intelligence, and has some outstanding contributions from all three players, whilst the far more grandiose and it must be said, occasionally overstretched Tchaikovsky A minor Trio is held together most effectively with little sense of bombast or padding – a real achievement. Excellent, natural recordings.


The excellent Barbican Piano Trio perform Rachmaninov’s passionate and soulful single-movement Trio in G minor, Elegiaque. The other work on this outstanding recording is Tchaikovsky’s poignant Piano Trio in A minor, premiered ten years earlier (in 1882) than the Racmaninov piece.