Composers: Tchaikovsky, Babajanian
Compositions: Piano trios
Performers: Vadim Gluzman v, Johannes Moser vc, Yevgeny Sudbin p
Catalogue Number: BIS BIS2372

This release of piano trios by Tchaikovsky and Arno Babajanian on BIS very much delivers on the promise of its starry line-up: Vadim Gluzman on violin, Johannes Moser on cello and Yevgeny Sudbin on piano.

The three musicians present the opening Tchaikovsky’s Opus 50 Piano Trio in A Minor – titled “à la mémoire d’un grand artiste” for the composer’s friend and mentor Nikolai Rubinstein, who died in 1881 – with passion and authority. From Moser’s opening cello lines, they give the Pezzo Elegiaco a moving, flowing gravitas that’s never over-indulgent. It’s a slightly swifter interpretation than most, but all the more powerful for its keen momentum. The players chart the shifting moods of the theme and variations which follows with sensitivity and clarity – hear the expressive grief of the fourth variation, led by the cello, the almost child-like chiming of the piano against droning strings in the fifth, the grand fugue of the eighth, or Gluzman’s sonorous violin in the ninth.

While the Tchaikovsky is well-established in the canon – it inspired Sergei Rachmaninov’s own Trio élégiaque in D Minor, Op. 9, written for Tchaikovsky in 1893 – the Armenian composer Arno Babajanian’s contribution to the genre is less famous, though it has nonetheless received a number of recordings over the years. Written the year before Stalin’s death, and the thaw that would allow Babajanian to pursue more wider musical interests, this trio showcases his work in the acceptably folk-infused style that won him a Stalin Prize in 1951. Babajanian would later embrace the musical modernity previously supressed – including influences from jazz and rock to microtonality and aleatoric music – but this trio, which premiered in 1953 with David Oistrakh on violin, Sviatoslav Knushevitzky on cello and the composer on piano, remains one of his most famous works.

The intensity of emotion the players bring to the Tchaikovsky continues here, in an increasingly wild – but assured – first movement, before the gentler lyricism of the Andante, bookended with simple yearning from violin and piano. The final movement’s driving rhythms, dispatched with biting accents and energetic flair by the musicians, brings the work to a close.

Capping off the disc as a kind of encore – it’s certainly a change of mood – is Sudbin’s own arrangement of the Tango intermezzo from Alfred Schnittke’s opera Life with an Idiot (though this music began life in his score for the 1974 film Agony), which the trio performs with quirky flair and obvious relish.

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