Rebecca Clarke: Piano Trio
Maurice Ravel: Piano Trio in A Minor
Gryphon Trio: James Parker (piano), Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin), Roman Borys (cello)
Recording: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Kingston, Ontario, Canada – CD: 50’42
Analekta AN 2 9520 – Booklet in English & French
This wonderful pairing of the familiar and unfamiliar is a delight from downbeat to double bar. Ravel’s iconic piano trio, surely one of the pinnacles of 20th-century chamber music, has been handsomely served by the “big name” piano trios and record labels. Rebecca Clarke’s potently bittersweet essay in the genre is also an incredible piece, but has largely been the territory of younger or all-female piano trios.
The Gryphon Trio is Canada’s premiere piano trio, and their ever-increasing discography on Analekta, initiated with fantastic recordings of Haydn trios, is stunning in its consistency and diversity. The present release continues that trend, with a probing reading of the Ravel and a revelatory performance of the Clarke.
Clarke’s trio, especially in its first and second movements, is intense and nostalgic, with a bombastic opening that gives way to passages capped by eerie polytonal bugle calls. The specter of conflict hangs over even the work’s brightest passages. There is harmonic ingenuity at work throughout, clearly influenced by Ravel and Vaughan Williams, but reaching in different, unique directions. Listening to the work alongside the Viola Sonata one marvels at Clarke’s technical mastery, and bemoans the fact that there aren’t a few more substantial chamber works from her pen.
In the Gryphon Trio’s hands, the piece is mesmerizing. The same rhythmic accuracy, fearless extremes of dynamics, and intriguing but convincing agogic accents and moments of rubato that distinguished their Haydn and Beethoven trios, among others, are injected into Clarke’s music. The Bekova Sisters on Chandos offer an alternative, more straightforward reading, but the Gryphon Trio’s performance feels more spontaneous and imaginative.
If the first movement of the Ravel seems a bit reticent at first, the group’s articulation of the dominant rhythmic figure—more lift before the dotted eighth than most—lends a fluid dancelike feeling that pushes ever forward. The wispy pickup gestures that come later in the movement are played with delicacy and elegance, and James Parker’s piano voicing in even the thickest chords is ravishing. The second movement’s swagger is relished by Annalee Patipatanakoon and Roman Borys, ramping up the energy quite a bit. The passacaglia is treated similarly to the first movement, a bit held back and shy, but a masterclass in sustained tension. The finale’s thrust to the work’s crushing conclusion, which Robert Rival suggests in his liner notes are “...easy to hear...as an aural—or at least emotional—representation of the war that France joined in early August 1914” is a musical thrill ride.
Analekta’s recording is clear and close, inviting us into the trio’s acoustic space, yet maintaining enough warmth to avoid any sense of brashness. One qualm in the production is that the names of the trio members are nowhere in the package. That is easily overlooked thanks to the fantastic musicianship on display, and for lovers of great chamber music and great musicianship, this disc is a must have.
Marcus Karl Maroney