Mendelssohn Piano Trio

Bedrich Smetana: Piano Trio, Op. 15; Josef Suk: Piano Trio, Op. 2; Piano Quartet, Op. 1

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The players of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio aren't Czech, and not even Central European; pianist Ya-Ting Chang, violinist Peter Sirotin, and cellist Fiona Thompson are Taiwanese, Russian, and English, respectively, and they're recording on a small American label. The program of Czech music they offer seems curious at first; proceeding from the Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15, of Bedrich Smetana to two early chamber works of Josef Suk, they seem to skip the major figure, Antonin Dvorák, who wrote plenty of chamber music and in many ways forms the missing link between the two composers. The Mendelssohn's program makes sense, however, quite apart from the fact that the Smetana trio and especially the two works of Suk's teenage years are much less often heard than, say, Dvorák's "Dumky" Trio in E minor. Smetana's piece, while not exactly an early work (it was composed in 1855, when he was 31), predates the composer's more famous orchestral masterpieces by some years and shows him at a point where he was balancing an incipient Czech nationalism with influences from the leading German composer of the time, Robert Schumann. The Mendelssohn's heavy interpretation of the work, emphasizing both the melancholy of the opening movement and the dance rhythms present in the other two movements, is a study in contrasts that adds an intriguing level of tension to the music. The Suk pieces are largely devoid of folk influences. Though modest in dimensions, they feature dense textures with assured instrumental and contrapuntal writing in music that, although certainly influenced by Brahms and Suk's teacher (and father-in-law) Dvorák, breathes an interior spirit that is as characteristically Czech as Smetana's polka rhythms, and they find that interior spirit in the Smetana as well. An unusually fine disc of Romantic chamber music.

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