Trio Martinů Plays the Composer’s Piano Trios

M56970 - cover

MARTINŮ: Piano Trios 2 & 3. “Bergerettes” for Piano Trio. Piano Trio, “Cinq pieces brèves.” / Trio Martinů / Musicaphon M56970

Trio Martinů, formed at the Prague Conservatory in 1990, has had its current lineup of violinist Pavel Šafařik, Jaroslav Matêjka and pianist Petr Jiřikovský unchanged since 1993. This is their sixth CD as a group, recorded in 2016 and ’17, of the composer’s complete piano trios.

These trios are programmed on the CD out of order, starting with the second trio, H. 327, moving backwards to the “Bergerettes” H. 275, then giving us the third trio before ending with the earliest, the “Cinq pieces brêves” of 1930. One is immediately struck by the echt-Romantic quality of the first movement of the second trio; despite some interesting harmonic shifts, this could have been written c. 1910 insofar as musical style is concerned. But, like most of Martinů’s music, it is interesting and engaging, made so here by the composer’s shortening of the phrase-lengths and introduction of some jagged rhythms as he goes into the development section. This becomes even more jagged, and the phrase-lengths even shorter, as the music progresses. The second movement also starts out in a somewhat Romantic vein, but by 2:07 the piano is playing some unusual harmonies and chime chords that liven up the music. The third movement is the liveliest in rhythm, a quick 4 tempo with constantly syncopated figures, even when the violin is just playing quickly-bowed rhythms behind the piano and cello.

By contrast, the “Bergerettes” are lively from the very first bar, though here the tonality is somewhat tame for Martinů. With the Piano Trio No. 3, however, we reach the fully mature Martinů, his music now fully integrated in melody, harmony and rhythm, somewhat jazz-influenced and knit together masterfully. The more one listens to this piece, the more one comes to love and appreciate its many facets and complexities, laid out in a deceptively simple pattern. The third movement is particularly interesting and the most jazz-influenced in the trio with its strong syncopated rhythms.

Interestingly, the “Cinq pieces brèves,” which is actually Martinů’s Piano Trio No. 1, is more harmonically daring than the second—in fact, somewhat influenced, I would say, by Stravinsky’s motor rhythms if not by his harmonies. Martinů also uses pentatonic scales and other devices to add interest to this very fine work.

Although Trio Martinů is a Czech group and plays this music with good feeling, I didn’t think their performances were quite as crisp as those of the Arbor Piano Trio on Naxos. Nonetheless, if you enjoy a more relaxed treatment of this music, this CD will satisfy your needs.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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