Composers: Rachmaninov
Compositions: Piano trios
Performers: Trio Wanderer
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM902338

There’s certainly no shortage of recordings of Sergei Rachmaninov’s two Trio élégiaques (despite the first only being rediscovered and published in 1947) including the recent live recording by Gidon Kremer, Giedre˙ė Dirvanauskaite˙ėand Daniil Trifonov on Deutsche Grammophon in 2017, which picked up five stars from Limelight. This new release by French ensemble Trio Wanderer gives it a run for its money, however, offering nuanced, detailed and beautifully integrated playing from the veteran ensemble.

Written in 1892 and 1893, Rachmaninov’s piano trios are youthful works, but, as their titles suggest, they are already imbued with his trademark melancholy. In the hands of violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, cellist Raphaël Pidoux and pianist Vincent Coq, however, the elegiac elements are balanced beautifully with yearning, and flashing moments of joy.

Trio Wanderer has a 30-year history under its belt (Phillips-Varjabédian has been with the group for 24) and a pedigree that involves studying with members of the Beaux Arts Trio – who made their own fine recording of the Rachmaninov trios – and all this comes across in refined, authoritative performances.

The shivering opening to the first trio is appropriately ghostly, while Coq’s piano – the pianist is the star of both trios – gleams with crisp light, giving way to dark cello and violin melodies and an urgency that builds irresistibly, the ensemble deftly pacing and delivering some potent climaxes. Coq’s rumbling funeral march in the final minutes is utterly gripping.

In the opening of the substantial second trio – written in 1893 following the death of Tchaikovsky, and owing a debt to his own trio of a little over a decade before – there’s a sense not so much of funereal grief as of desperate longing, given a keen edge by the flowing tempo adopted by Trio Wanderer (they make the Trifonov and co version sound almost dirge-like by comparison). In fact, an implacable momentum, driven by Coq, propels the almost symphonically conceived trio throughout. Coq doesn’t achieve quite the same luminescence Trifonov draws from the piano in the solo opening of the second movement, offering instead a thoughtful simplicity, bursting into glittering, crystalline shards in the Allegro Scherzando variation – and there are some absolutely haunting quiet moments. The Allegro Risoluto finale is delivered with compelling force.

Edvard Grieg’s Andante con moto and Josef Suk’s Elegie (a tribute to the Czech writer Julius Zeyer) round out this very fine, if rather melancholic, release.

Don't miss out 200th issue, subscribe today