– Onyx 4008, 58:00 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:
The spirit of the East haunts Ravel’s 1914 Piano Trio – perhaps a musical antidote to the outbreak of World War I. Airy, refined textures dominate the piece, the piano part often being brittle and staccato, the cello descending in the Passacaglia to its lowest registers. Always, Ravel’s sense of color and instrumental interplay finds inspiration in extra-musical sources, such as the Pantoum Scherzo, modeled on a verse form which the Symbolist Verlaine, Baudeliare, and Victor Hugo had adopted for their poetry. The weaving motif, along with the high trill of the violin in the last movement and its statement of the sinuous main theme combine elegance and virtuosity directly, without self-consciousness. Ravel dedicated the piece to his counterpoint teacher Andre Gedalge in tribute to his admiration for pure form. The realization of this delicious piece by Pascal Roge and his colleagues extends his well-deserved repute as an exponent of Gallic repertory. Deft and transparent, the ensemble glides through Ravel’s whirling phrases like a hot knife through butter. So liquid is the performance, taped 2002, that it ends almost as quickly as it had begun; so you will have to hear it again.
Chausson composed his first chamber work, the Op. 3 Trio, in 1881. Its immediate model is Franck’s Piano Quintet, whose dark harmonic progressions and angry energies permeate the Pas trop lent–Allegro anime opening movement. Initiates may hear allusions to Franck’s Psyche et Eros. Typical of the cyclic composers, all of the themes of the first movement will reappear in altered form in the finale. Richly thick textures threaten to collapse of their own Wagnerian orchestral weight. Occasionally, a liquid figure in the piano will hint of Loeffler. The Scherzo is brisk and four-square, with a touch of Saint-Saens. Chausson’s undisputed capacity for elegiac song ensues in the Assez lent movement, with its thick doubling of the parts. Cello and piano collaborate for some hefty chords before the violin and piano dilute the mix. Debussy had commented on “the overbearing weight” of Chausson’s musical ideas, not entirely beguiled by the young composer’s efforts. The opening, breezy elements of the Anime finale soon yield to that darker impulse which dominates the work, although a nervous energy transforms the former applications of the other movements‚ ideas in novel effects. Again, the Roge trio plays with verve and passion, the third movement unfolding like a mighty French nocturne. Admirers of Pascal Roge, whose Debussy Preludes for this same Onyx label mightily impressed me last year, will embrace this disc with unreserved enthusiasm.