Trio Musicalis Plays Contrasts

IBS-42019 - cover

BARTÓK: Contrasts. KHACHATURIAN: Trio. BERG: Kammerkonzert: II. Satz aus Dem – Adagio. MILHAUD: Suite for Trio. STRAVINSKY: L’Histoire du Soldat Suite / Trio Musicalis: Eduardo Raimundo, cl; Mario Pérez, vln; Francisco Escoda, pno / IBS Classical 42019

As in the case of a few other pieces, we have Benny Goodman to thank for the existence of Bartók’s Contrasts, and it is to his credit that he would even want to play such advanced music at a time (1938) when his top-rated swing band was still at its early peak, with Harry James, Ziggy Elman and Chris Griffin on trumpets, Jess Stacy on piano and Gene Krupa on drums. Goodman’s first real excursion into classical music was the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, which he recorded with the Budapest String Quartet. The very next was Contrasts, written by a man who detested jazz and thought very little of Goodman as a musician (he privately referred to him as a “jazznik”). When he finally saw the score, Goodman said, “Gee, Mr. Bartók, I’m going to need three hands to play this!,” yet he mastered it and even recorded it with Bartók himself on piano and Josef Szigeti on violin.

Trio Muscalis presents us with a nice, taut performance, perhaps a bit more Latin in feel and not quite as loose as Bartók’s own recording or the one with Ani Kavafian on violin, David Schifrin on clarinet and André-Michel Schub on piano, but it’s still a lively and somewhat idiomatic reading. In the slow second movement, violinist Mario Pérez gets the same eerie feeling that Szigeti did by playing on the edge of the strings, but with a sweeter tone. The third movement, played with great virtuosity, is just a tad off in its rhythm, again sounding more Latin than Hungarian.

The Khachaturian trio, dating from 1932, is a much more interesting and introspective piece than the splashy orchestral works by which he is better known. Trio Musicalis plays this with great sensitivity and feeling, obviously enjoying its Russian themes and rhythms. The overriding feeling of this trio, however, is pastoral, and this lyrical quality is brought out very well. The last movement has chord changes, and a rhythm, that sound more Middle Eastern than Russian.

The “Adagio” from Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto is arranged here for clarinet trio and played with great sensitivity though I thought the reduction of forces robbed the music of its color and richness. After this long, protracted slow movement, Darius Milhaud’s Suite for Trio from 1936 is a brisk, light but still very interesting piece. The first movement is particularly fascinating as it combines asymmetric rhythms that almost sound Latin with others that clearly resemble what we’ve come to accept as an “American” style—but then again, Milhaud was one of the few French composers of his time who was personally acquainted with American music, having come to the United States as early as 1922.

We end our excursion with the suite from Stravinsky’s Le Histoire du Soldat, played without a narrator. Once again this is a reduction of the score, but not as extreme as in the case of the Berg piece, and again Trio Musicalis plays it well—but, to my ears, a bit too lyrically and without the edge that Stravinsky wanted in the music.

In toto, then, a mixed review. Some of the performances and music are very good while others just miss the mark.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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