Smetana Trio

Maurice Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor; Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Trios Nos. 1 & 2

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"Complete Piano Trios" is an odd title for this Czech release: Ravel wrote only one trio, and the completeness is hardly the point. There, however, the doubts end; this is an extraordinary performance that both contributes original interpretations and draws illuminating connections. The ultra-romantic Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 8, by Shostakovich was a student work, and it's comparatively rarely played. But putting it next to Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor makes perfectly clear why Shostakovich liked it, submitted it as a conservatory entrance exam, and thought it was worth publishing: it has a strong Impressionist component, and the composer thought, with some justification, that he was merging the French and Russian styles. All three works are beautifully performed by the Smetana Trio. The Ravel has the seemingly nonchalant but actually aching lyricism that only French groups are supposed to be capable of, and some of that lyricism is transferred to the first movement of the Shostakovich Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67, a product of the World War II years that, almost alone among compositions of that time, reflected what was happening to the Jews and that ranks among Shostakovich's profoundest works. The beauty of the first movement makes the tragic slow movement and the dance-of-death finale all the more intense. A 20th century chamber recital of the first order.

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