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Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, op. 92 (1892) [33:58]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Trio (1914) [25:50]
Fidelio Trio (Mary Dullea (piano), Darragh Morgan (violin), Adi Tal (cello))
rec. St John the Evangelist, Oxford, April 2016
RESONUS RES10173 [59:58]

This is the first foray on record by the Fidelio Trio into the mainstream piano trio repertoire. Much of their catalogue to date has been in contemporary works, including two well-received recordings of Irish trios for the Mťtier label (review ~ review). Choosing to couple these quite different two French masterpieces is, as far as I can tell, a first. Of the thirteen recordings of the Saint-SaŽns currently listed by Presto, only one other does not simply couple his two trios. While the soundworlds of these two Frenchmen are generally quite distinct, I feel that these trios are perhaps as close as they come, and hence the coupling makes a good deal of sense.

Elegant is an adjective given frequently to Saint-SaŽns’s music, but this trio of his maturity is no light frippery. Spread over five movements, and well in excess of half an hour, it is a work of serious intent and outcome. The Fidelios imbue the work with a satisfying sense of passion and drama.

The Ravel is, of course, one of the towering masterpieces of the trio repertoire, and those first few pages are magical, almost life-changing the first time you hear them. I didn’t get that sense here, finding the performance lacking in nuance in key places, especially those opening pages. The Passacaille is probably the best of the movements.

In both works, my reference is the Florestan Trio. In the Saint-SaŽns, the Fidelio Trio is impressive, but edged out by the Florestan’s greater subtlety. The difference is much greater in the Ravel, where the Fidelios take a very straightforward approach, which doesn’t stir me at all. It is clearly what they have striven for; there is a quote on the back cover of “nicely matter-of-fact” from a Guardian newspaper critic to support this. I agree with the second part of the phrase, but I don’t see it as a positive. However, I should say that Ravel was known for his preference for straightforward performance of his music.

The booklet notes provide solid historical and musicological information, and the sound is atmospheric, warm and avoids the common mistake of placing the microphones too close, so that we “enjoy” the players’ sniffs and snorts. I feel that under an hour’s playing time is rather ungenerous; while most of the other obvious candidates from the French trio repertoire are too lengthy, there are some relevant works, the Indy No. 2 for example, that would have fitted.

David Barker

 

 




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