Trio Atanassov

Smetana, Dvorák: Piano Trios

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Despite its Eastern European name, the Trio Atanassov is French and is an exciting new presence on the chamber music scene there. This pair of Czech trios shows why: they are interpretively fresh, passionate, and accurate. The pairing of works may be the main attraction for many buyers; Smetana's highly emotional Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15, is very often paired with the ubiquitous Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90 ("Dumky"), of Dvorák, but here instead you get the much less common Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65, composed in 1883. You can see why it has been neglected: its large opening movement seems to be trying too hard to match Brahms' example, and though it is intricately constructed it lacks a killer tune. The informative booklet sheds light on why this might have been: Dvorák's opera Dimitri, Op. 64, had just been slammed by Viennese critic Hanslick, who told the Czech composer that he had been "unduly influenced by the joy of [his] Bohemian brothers," and that only Germany could help him! As it happens, the other three movements are the absolute height of Dvorák charm (try especially the Trio of the Scherzo, track 5), and the Trio Atanassov delivers the kind of relaxed precision that makes for an optimal performance of these enchanting little tunes. The Smetana as well is intelligent and very affecting. The group avoids the over-the-top emotionalism that infects some performances of this work and gives the proper weight to the music's hard-won moments of repose. The only real complaint here is the sound: the environment of Berlin's Festeburgkirche is too live for the chamber dimensions of the music, and there's unnecessary instrument noise. As for the Trio Atanassov, though, this is a chamber group to watch.

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