The Z.E.N. Trio came on the scene suddenly in 2017, getting signed to Deutsche Grammophon and touring for the first time in the fall of that year in top venues in the U.K. and in Asia. It's easy to hear on this debut album what attracted the heavy-hitters to this young group. The trio's name has nothing to do with Buddhism; the initials are those of the first names of the group members, Zhang Zuo, Esther Yoo, and Narek Hakhnazaryan. They are a suitably international group (Zuo is Chinese, Yoo Korean-American-Belgian, and Hakhnazaryan Armenian), brought together as members of the BBC's Generation program. The three players have reached a high level as an ensemble in a very short time, with an entirely confident performance of the Brahms Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, presented in its revised and shortened version from late in the composer's life. The Z.E.N. Trio even captures a bit of the emotion-recollected-in-tranquillity quality of this later version. But the real standout is the Dvorák Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90 ("Dumky"), where the group not only jells as a unit, but offers a distinctive and beautifully persuasive interpretation. They deemphasize the dance element in these six movements, which is rather elusive anyhow, and draw strong contrasts among the movements, with faster-than-usual tempos in both the Lento maestoso and Allegro vivace of the opening movement, setting up gorgeous, mysterious slow movements that evoke the nature music of Dvorák's last years. It's a riveting performance of this trio from start to finish, and it amply demonstrates why this new group is not just one to watch, but a very hot ticket.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Piano Trio in B Op. 8|
|Piano Trio Op. 90 'Dumky'|
|Hungarian Dance No. 6 in D|