Zodiac Trio – IGOR STRAVINSKY: Suite from ‘The Soldier’s Tale’; NICOLAS BACRI: A Smiling Suite, Op. 100b; GALINA USTVOLSKAYA: Trio; BÉLA BARTÓK: Contrasts, Sz. 111 – Zodiac Trio (Kliment Krylovsky, clarinet/ Vanessa Mollard, violin/ Riko Higuma, piano) – Blue Griffin Records BGR257, 58:17 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
There are many wonderful works for the combination of clarinet, violin and piano. In part, many composers have realized how these timbres blend so smoothly together and yet each instrument can bring some very particular techniques and tone colors that can speak so separately within the trio. Well known trio ensembles have often commissioned new vibrant pieces for this unique blend; most notably the work of the Verdehr Trio.
This new Zodiac Trio, comprised of three young, amazing performers, was formed while they were in college at the Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of clarinetist David Krakauer and of the Beaux Arts Trio. If this CD is an indication, the Zodiac Trio is destined for a long and interesting performing career.
The ensemble makes a smart move to demonstrate their validity by including two very well known works: the Stravinsky Suite from “A Soldier’s Tale” and the Bartok Contrasts. Both of these are masterworks and have received numerous recorded and live performances for a long time and are considered essential repertoire for this combination. Zodiac performs each of these great works with style and aplomb; providing nice pacing throughout and great balance.
The two pleasant surprises here are the all but unknown works by Bacri and Ustvolskaya. Nicolas Bacri is a French composer who has written in virtually every genre but is known particularly for his chamber music. The present A Smiling Suite is actually a transcription of five of his works from a collection for solo piano, title somewhat coyly “Classical Pleasure.” The suite, exhibiting Baroque and Rococo forms, such as a menuet, air and gavotte, is quite light hearted but very entertaining.
Galina Ustvolskaya was an unnecessarily obscure Russian composer who died in 2006. Her music was championed by her teacher, Dmitri Shostakovich. Her relatively small output is characterized by depth of emotion. The very stark clarinet solo that opens and closes the opening movement of her Trio from 1949 is enough to capture the attention. In fact, Shostakovich was so fond of this piece that he, himself, quoted from the finale for his own String Quartet No. 5. Unlike, the Bacri, this is a pretty “dark” and intense work whose final “Energico” is driving, but frequently dissonant and has an almost desperate sound to it. As much as I have always loved both the Stravinsky and the Bartok; I thought this work was a real find.
There are many reasons that all chamber music lovers should acquire this disc. Certainly, the members of the Zodiac Trio are all fine musicians and have a very focused and symbiotic ensemble sound. However, this is all great music, too. Their performance of Contrasts can hold its own with the best out there (such as the David Shifrin Chamber Music Northwest or Benny Goodman’s original with Joseph Szigeti). Both the Bacri and the Ustvolskaya are terrific discoveries. I recommend this enthusiastically!