DVOŘÁK. SMETANA Piano Trios
Having already produced French and Russian albums, the Atos Trio turn their attention to the Czechs. But the works on this ‘Czech Album’ share more than their birthplace. Dvořák wrote his Trio in F minor, Op 65, shortly after the death of his beloved mother, while Smetana composed his Trio in G minor, Op 15, in response to the loss of his five-year-old daughter. The Atos’s reading is duly stony-faced.
Which serves the music fairly well. In this German ensemble’s hands Dvořák’s trio has a weight and grandeur befitting its symphonic dimensions. The first movement gathers tension slowly but steadily. The slow third movement is wonderfully expansive. These players don’t shy away from the emotional extremes, but nor do they force them. And in those moments of quiet reflection, they are at their most eloquent.
The problem is that it all sounds obstinately Germanic. Yes, Dvořák drew influence from his colleagues across the border. But the beauty of this piece is the way it mingles Brahmsian heft with Bohemian charm, a quality that teeters just beyond these players’ reach: they try to find it in the opening movement but can’t quite deliver on those Slavic rhythms. They try again in the folkish second movement but sound as if they are trying too hard. For Bohemian spirit, the Sitkovetsky Trio has the edge.
The same kind of imbalance pervades the Smetana. There are precious few opportunities here for fond reminiscences – specifically, the composer’s reminiscences of his daughter. Instead the players channel their energies into heightening the work’s tragic impact. Still, there is plenty here to savour: the strikingly broad opening; the way they gradually, relentlessly, ratchet up the tension in the first movement. Best of all though, is the finale: white-hot and unremitting. Others have read this movement as an assertion of hope. Here it sounds more like blind rage.