Introducing the Amatis Trio

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ENESCU: Piano Trio in g min. RAVEL: Piano Trio in a min. BRITTEN: Introduction & Allegro / Amatis Trio / Avi-Music 8553996D

This is the debut recording of the Amatis Trio, a group formed in 2014 by German violinist Lea Hausmann, British cellist Samuel Shepherd and Dutch-Chinese pianist Mengjie Han. The group happily enjoys exploring unusual repertoire, although on this CD the Ravel Trio is something of a staple.

I immediately liked the way they tore into the Enescu Trio in g minor: not only with a good tempo, but with the kind of from-the-gut playing that I admire most. This is not a shy group; they play boldly and with a good tone in the two string instruments, although cellist Shepherd seems to favor a leaner, more manicured timbre than many of his fellows on the concert scene today. And of course I enjoyed the music, since Enescu is one of my very favorite composers of this period although, for me, the piano part in the first movement seemed a bit perfunctory in some places.

The trio is recorded in a resonant space, but not so much so that they sound as if they are swimming in echo. This allows one to appreciate the many soft and delicate passages as much as the louder, more extroverted ones. In their very capable hands, the music soars, and this is not as common a quality as one might think nowadays. They also pay very close attention to little details in the music, not too dissimilar from the way the legendary Thibaud-Casals-Cortot trio played back in the late 1920s, and this, too, is a rare commodity nowadays. Note, for instance, the way they transition between themes in the second movement of the Enescu trio.

Moreover, they vary their approach to music of different cultures. Their performance of the Ravel Trio is light, airy, and quintessentially French-sounding, an entirely different world altogether from the Enescu piece. They even lighted their tones; if one were to listen to this trio first, one might not suspect that they had passion or sweep enough to handle the Enescu work. The music floats delicately in the air like little wisps of sound, wafted along on a summer evening’s breeze—until one hears the way they play the effervescent second movement.

The Britten Introduction and Allegro, dating from 1932 when the young composer was still a student at the Royal College of Music. It was written as an entry for the Cobbett Prize for Music at the Conservatory, but he won it for his Phantasy Trio instead. The opening sounds tentative and ambiguous, but by the three-minute mark it opens up and becomes more interesting, using a rocking motion in the piano to propel the bitonal themes which he had learned in part from his private studies with Frank Bridge. Some of the writing, particularly the cello part, is quite atmospheric, but as a whole this piece really doesn’t hold together well. Most of the best music is saved for the “Allegro” portion, which sounds a great deal like some of his mid-to-late-1930s music. Yet the Amatis Trio also plays this very, very well, making a strong case for it.

An excellent debut disc.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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