Maurice Ravel

Piano Trio in A minor, M. 67

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The list of twentieth century piano trios may be short, but it contains several gems. One of the most precious is the brilliant specimen written by Maurice Ravel in 1914, shortly before he temporarily abandoned life as a musician to serve as a driver for the French army. The Piano Trio in A minor is a true sonata for three players, rich in the harmonic and textural innovations Ravel had accomplished in the prewar years, but ultimately, and very possibly more significantly (Ravel certainly felt so), composed around balanced, quintessentially Classical patterns.

    The trio has four movements: Modéré, Pantoum (assez vif), Passacaille, and Final (animé). The first movement is a strikingly new variety of sonata-allegro form. The first theme, announced by the piano in pianissimo parallel chords at the very opening of the piece and then taken up by the strings in octaves, is like a shadowy recollection of something out of Basque folk music. Its unusual ostinato rhythm seems to echo in the mind's ear even after Ravel has moved on to the Plus lent qu'au début second theme -- a second theme that is very unusually set in the same key as the first. (Ravel makes sense of this atypically tonic-saturated exposition by ending the movement not in the tonic but rather in the relative major, C.) A brief development makes way to a truncated recapitulation which in retrospect seems but a preface to an extended coda in which the ostinato's first idea lingers in the lowest bass of the piano until at last it becomes a faint, colorless drone that dies away into nothingness. This is a remarkable movement that deserves its reputation as a masterpiece.

    The second movement is a playful scherzo that will likely sound the most typically French to most listeners. The Passacaille is of course a passacaglia, taking a slow, winding eight-measure pattern as the material to be repeated; the repetition is not strict, and soon a second thematic notion worms its way into the movement, helping to build a massive climax.

    Ravel's love of shifting meters is put on display in the quick-paced Final, with contrasts between 5/4 / 7/4. Again sonata-allegro form shapes the course of the music, seeping through the cracks of what might at first seem to be a more freely composed exhibition of instrumental passion -- and the closing bars, filled with shimmering, never-ending trills from the strings and a wild whoosh or two from the piano, are certainly passionate.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Modéré
    2. Pantoum. Assez vif
    3. Passacaille. Très large
    4. Finale. Animé

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Fuga Libera FUG 748
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Analekta AN 29520
    2017 CAvi-music AVI 8553317
    2017 Melodiya MELCD 1002491
    2016 Resonus RES 10173
    2015 MDG DG 30302722
    2015 Dux Records DUX 0758
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794708
    2015 Avi-Music / CAvi-music AVI 8553315
    2014 CAG / Victor Elmaleh Collection CAG 113
    2014 Supraphon SU 41452
    2014 Bridge BCD 9440
    2014 Centaur Records CRC 3383
    2014 Fontenay Classics FCI 002
    2013 Entertainment Group 12907
    2013 Anima Records ANM 121000001
    2013 Nimbus NI 5905
    2013 Blue Griffin Recording BGR 275
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2012 Haenssler HAEN 93715
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 Claudio / Claudio Records CR 58906
    2012 Claudio / Claudio Records CR 58902
    2012 ATMA Classique ACD 22633
    2012 Challenge Classics CC 72535
    2012 Decca 4783725
    2012 Decca
    2012 EtCetera Records ETC 1438
    2012 CAvi-music AVI 8553260
    2012 RCA Red Seal 88725451452
    2011 RCA Red Seal 886919369120
    2011 Skarbo 41056
    2011 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 120101
    2011 Decca
    2011 EMI Classics 94427
    2011 MDG 3421685
    2010 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2010 Tria / Tria Records 3862
    2010 Membran 233081
    2010 Documents / Membran 233017
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca
    2010 Hyperion 30029
    2009 ABC Classics 4766960
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778537
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Oehms Classics 730
    2009 CRD Records CRD 3446
    2009 Fuga Libera 547
    2009 Con Brio 28453
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 Mirare 049
    2008 Urania 354
    2008 Blue Saphir 1044
    2008 Blue Saphir 1065
    2008 Intim Musik 104
    2008 Vox 3031
    2007 Melodiya MELCD 1001040
    2007 Endeavour Classics 1022
    2007 Harmonia Mundi HMA195 1967
    2007 Koch Enternational Classics 7726
    2007 Azica Records 71240
    2006 Decca 4768458
    2005 MSR Classics 1103
    2005 Parlophone
    2005 Onyx ONYX 4008
    2005 Calliope CAL3822/3
    2005 Real Sound (RS) 112
    2005 Excelcius
    2004 Chandos 10251
    2004 Preiser Records 90596
    2003 Challenge Classics 72022
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 585255
    2002 Arion 68018
    2002 Cascavelle 3048
    2002 Erato / Virgin 7243545492
    2001 Daphne 1016
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 569279
    2001 Rca Red Seal 63025
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469 184-2GP2
    2000 Chandos 7103
    2000 Arabesque 6736
    2000 Hyperion 67114SACD
    1999 Chandos 9114
    1999 Chandos 9206
    1999 Afka 544
    1999 Philips Digital Classics 411141
    1999 Le Chant du Monde LDC2781114
    1999 RCA Red Seal 63000
    1999 Hyperion 67114
    1998 Virgin 561427-2
    1997 Arts Music 47238
    1997 Philips / Philips Classics 454134
    1997 RCA 902661775
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56482
    1996 Live Classics 174
    1996 Chandos 9452
    1995 Naxos 550934
    1995 Chesky Records CHESKYCD 124
    1995 RCA 68062
    1995 Decca / London 4443182
    1994 Dorian 90187
    1994 Berlin Classics BC1101-2
    1994 Chandos 9204
    1993 Kontrapunkt 32158
    1993 Erato 45920
    1992 Teldec 44937
    1992 Bayer Records BR 200032
    1992 Chandos 8458
    1991 EMI Classics 63986
    1990 Delos 3055
    Lys 380/381
    Decca 000444702
    London 425860
    Monitor 72069
    Musicbank
    Classic Edition
    SNE 2032
    Denon Records 72508
    IMP Classics 36
    Apollo Music 619
    Intercord Klassische Diskothek 860866
    EMI Music Distribution 789072
    IMP Masters 41
    Musicbank 6034
    Adda 581065
    Philips 411141
    Amplitude Records 2004
    Virgin 45016
    Sony Classical
    Fone 86F05
    RCA Gold Seal 7871
    Deutsche Grammophon 000303302