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Contrasts (1938)

L'Histoire du Soldat, Suite (1919)

Trio (1932)
Suite (1936)
ensemble incanto
Arte Nova Classics 74321 72105 2 [61.03] Recorded 1997
 Bargain price

These four trios for violin, clarinet and piano were all written between the wars and are all in the then popular neo-classical style. Each has to some extent been influenced by National folk idioms, each is also very characteristic of it's respective composer and they are all very different from each other in style.

The Milhaud Suite is derived from his incidental music for Jean Anouilh's 'Le Voyageur sans Bagages', it was written in one day and makes perfect use of all three instruments. It is a very tuneful work which has led to a well deserved popularity; it includes quotations of South American Dances. Right from the start this ensemble demonstrates exceptional brilliance of playing and master of complex rhythms.

'Contrasts' was commissioned by the jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman. The three movement piece was written for Goodman and the violinist Joseph Szigeti and Bartok played the piano part in the premier. The piece is a fascinating mixture of fragments of Hungarian folk music interwoven with jazz and blues influenced material. Like much of Bartok it is music which becomes more and more interesting with repeated hearings. It must be incredibly difficult to play, but the performance on this recording cannot be faulted.

The 'L'Histoire du Soldat' will be more familiar to most of us than the other pieces presented here. The original piece was written for a small chamber ensemble which included a trumpet and drums; these instruments tend to define the work and their absence is the first impression on hearing this Suite. The Suite was dedicated to Werner Reinholt who had provided financial support to Stravinsky and who was also a clarinettist. Typically Stravinsky achieves a very transparent texture for this music which combines a neo-classical treatment of material based on popular dance styles.

There is a tendency to patronise the music of Khachaturian. This I believe is most unfair as although his Symphonies are rather over-cooked, much of his music is tuneful and skilfully presented. He is one of the very few composers of the latter part of the last century to become genuinely popular with people of ordinary musical taste; I well remember a time when his 'Sabre Dance' was genuinely top of the pops. This trio is one of his earlier works and is saturated with Armenian folk music presented in a most interesting and appealing way.

I found this to be a most interesting CD with fascinating music played with zest, intensity and enthusiasm in good recording. Fully recommended.

Arthur Baker

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