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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Trio for violin, cello and piano in A minor, Op. 50 (1881/1882) [49:48]
Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Litaniae, tone poem for piano, violin and cello, op. 70 (1918/1928, rev. 1929) [18:01]
Boulanger Trio
rec. 2017, Kammermusiksaal Deutschlandfunk, Cologne
CAVI-MUSIC 8553401 [67.49]

Boulanger Trio, founded in 2006, now records for CAvi-music label. I have long been interested in their work. They have released an album of piano trios by Tchaikovsky and Paul Juon. The two Russian composers, who were born around forty years apart and both studied at the Moscow Conservatoire, occupy either end of the scale where acclaim is concerned.

Moscow-born Paul Juon was of Swiss parentage. Although his works were performed in his lifetime, after his death his music soon fell into relative obscurity. In 1889 Juon entered the Moscow Conservatory and studied composition with Arensky and Taneyev. Rachmaninov was a close contemporary alongside whom he studied. Written in 1918, his Litaniae, a tone poem for piano trio, was premiered the following year. Juon revised the work in 1929 but the original is lost. The piece falls between the late Romantics and the second progressive composers, although the radicalism of Arnold Schoenberg and his school was an anathema to Juon. In Litaniae the influence of, say, Rachmaninov and Georges Catoire is very far away, together with programmatic elements and emphasis on tone colouring which Boulanger Trio clearly delight in. They make light work of varying moods of the writing that frequently inhabit the high register of the instruments. The International Juon Society describe the composer as “the missing link between Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky”, not a bad description if Litaniae is typical of his output.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor was written in 1881-1882 at Rome. Subtitled ‘In memory of a Great Artist’, the score is Tchaikovsky’s tribute to his friend and mentor composer Nikolai Rubinstein. At nearly fifty minutes, the trio is a monumental work. Boulanger Trio provide a persuasive performance fully attuned to the score’s passionate lyricism, maintaining that essential high level of intensity. This is a satisfying performance that I will be happy to have in my collection, and I will not be searching out alternative recordings in a hurry.

The disc was recorded at Kammermusiksaal Deutschlandfunk, Cologne. The engineering team has delivered satisfying sound quality, reasonably clear and balanced. An interesting read, the booklet notes written by Eva Blaskewitz provide some helpful information. Prior to the premiere of the revised version of Litaniae, Juon wrote a short note which is incorporated into the essay.

The expressive quality and close unity of Boulanger Trio is striking throughout. They achieve an especially impressive intonation from the instruments. They are in outstanding form with this fascinating pair of Russian piano trios, one a hardly known jewel and the other a classic repertoire staple.

Michael Cookson

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