Martinu˚ • Milhaud
String Trios
Jacques Thibaud String Trio
Audite Audite 97727

Darius Milhaud needed a ruthless editor. An affable teddy bear with a technical facility from the earliest age, he oozed music at the slightest prod – his opus numbers exceeded 400. He travelled widely through the Americas absorbing local colour but spread his invention too thinly, so despite some delightful masterpieces there is a great deal of less inspired if finely crafted dross; a daunting prospect for the curious collector who must dig through a great deal of quartz to find the occasional speck of gold.

His two string trios were written during his USA exile in the 1940s and yield little gold despite the booklet author’s persuasive analysis. Their wry nods toward popular idioms are hardly memorable, while the counterpoint may be rigorously worked but arid – more fun to play than hear. However, the Martinu trios are true gems.

Martinů may have been as prolific as Milhaud but his inspiration was on another level – prospecting uncovers the mother lode. Both studied and worked in 1920s Paris then were forced into exile during the war years – the contrast in personality may be pertinent; Martinů was quiet and reclusive; current thought is that he was on the autism spectrum.

His first trio had three performances in 1924 then disappeared to resurface in the Royal Danish Library in 2005. It is a startling, confident work; Martinů had just moved to Paris, begun studying with Roussel and was absorbing the modernist styles of the day, but you clearly hear the voice of the mature composer. The first movement opens abrasively before a surprisingly urbane tune takes over; this and the ‘sung’ melody of the Andante points forward to the open-hearted lyrical passages of later years.

The second trio was written in 1934 but had to await publication until 1951. By now Martinů had fully assimilated Czech folk idioms, spiky modernism and neo-classicist motor-rhythms into his own personal language. The first movement melds a bustling opening and close with a haunting slow interlude while the second veers from pensive opening recitative to dense argument with Bartókian effects propelled to a thrilling conclusion.

The Jacques Thibaud String Trio prefer unvarnished rustic truth to polished urbanity – their fearless approach suits the Martinů. They do not shy away from some uncomfortable sounds but throw themselves at the works with such conviction as to win me over. The Milhaud trios might have worked better with a more refined boulevardier elegance to paper over the cracks.