May 2, 2016
Martinů: Complete Piano Trios

The Arts Desk
April 30, 2016

The radiance of Martinů's output is among its most endearing features, and it's striking that a composer so close to some of 20th century history's darker moments was able to express himself with such humanity and warmth. These four works for piano trio tick every box on the Martinů checklist, from affability through to wisdom and wit. I can't imagine anyone's life not being enriched after a few minutes' exposure to his late Piano Trio No. 3, a glorious distillation of all that's good about this composer's mature music. The singing theme which swells into life just a minute or so into the slow movement is indecently lush; it's hard to believe that only three musicians are playing. There’s a similar passage in the finale’s central section, before the motoric toccata music returns. And what a coda – soulful, nostalgic and rhythmically exhilarating. A genuine masterpiece.

The Piano Trio No. 2 was also written during Martinů's post-war spell in the US. There’s a similarly propulsive finale, though the pensive opening movement is the most striking. The Piano Trio No. 1, written in 1930, consists of “Cinq pieces bréves”. Four of them are giddy romps. They pass in the blink of an eye, the gravitas reserved for a spare, elegiac second movement. Pianist Jitka Čechová’s jazzy swirlings at the start of the final section are something to cherish. Completing the disc are the five Bergerettes, their irregular phrase lengths and soulful harmonies unmistakably evoking Czech folk music. Martinů composed them early in 1939: the sleeve essay’s reference to this composer’s “ability to free himself of the weight of the overbearing tension of the time” reads like a massive understatement. This is the greatest chamber disc I’ve heard in ages, and I can’t imagine a better introduction to Martinů's music. Violinist Jiří Vodička and cellist Jan Páleníček match Čechová with rich, resonant playing. Truly excellent – trust me. 

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