Sitkovetsky Trio – Ravel & Saint-Saens – Piano Trios (2021) [FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Sitkovetsky Trio – Ravel & Saint-Saens – Piano Trios (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/96kHz | Time – 01:00:37 minutes | 1,08 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Digital Booklet, Front Cover | © BIS

Pop the champagne corks, for when this French programme is appearing only the year after a fine first volume of Beethoven Trios, it looks very much as though Sitkovetsky Trio are in a new rhythm of regular recordings, following Isang Enders replacing Leonard Elschenbroich as cellist in 2019. Plus, while this isn’t the first time an ensemble has thought to pair the Ravel Piano Trio with one of the two Saint-Sa”ens ones, the Sitkovetsky’s performances are properly top-drawer.

The Ravel comes first. Composed in 1914 on the eve of the First World War, this work sees him trying to solve the fundamental incompatibility (as he saw it) between the percussive sonority of the piano and the sustained singing voices of stringed instruments. Stylistic inspirations meanwhile include the Basque country of his birth – heard in the first movement’s irregular opening rhythm mimicking the region’s zortziko dance form – and also eastern musical modes, heard especially in the Pantoum second movement based on a form of Malaysian poetic verse. On to the Sitkovetsky, and the tangy edge to their timbres is a delicious match for the filigree detail of the scoring, while the strings’ tonal blending and the breadth of their colouristic palette are producing a constant stream of fresh pleasures. Their reading also stands out for its balancing of faithfulness to the manuscript with a striking impression of freedom. For instance, it goes without saying that the Final is supposed to be a climactic moment, but the degree to which the Sitkovetsky have realised its orchestral width and complexity of sound, and then the free-wheeling, semi-rakish feel they’ve brought to its brilliant coda, is glorious. It’s the sort of performance that only a firmly established, joined-at-the-hip ensemble could pull off. Also the sort of performance for which you need a superlative pianist capable of delivering the virtuosities with sparkle and light-on-the-pedal airy grace, which Wu Qian does with easy aplomb.

Penned almost thirty years earlier and considered by Ravel as a successful reconciliation of that aforementioned incompatibility between piano and strings, Saint-Sa”ens’ Trio in E minor has an equally dizzyingly busy piano part that here is equally gracefully, sparklingly rendered by Qian. Then as a whole this is an airily buoyant, equally multi-hued, crisply rhythmic and finesse-filled reading that honours both Saint-Sa”ens’ own time, and his indebtedness to the forms and textures of previous centuries. Listen for instance to the glittering dainty clarity of their final movement fugue, or the success in the first movement with which they flip between lightly dancing lilt to long-lined, ardent, romantic sweep.

As I said up top, the back catalogue has other options for Ravel and Saint-Sa”ens pairings. But I think this one might just have trumped them all. – Charlotte Gardner

1. Sitkovetsky Trio – I. Mod’er’e
2. Sitkovetsky Trio – II. Pantoum
3. Sitkovetsky Trio – III. Passacaille
4. Sitkovetsky Trio – IV. Final
5. Sitkovetsky Trio – I. Allegro non troppo
6. Sitkovetsky Trio – II. Allegretto
7. Sitkovetsky Trio – III. Andante con moto
8. Sitkovetsky Trio – IV. Grazioso, poco allegro
9. Sitkovetsky Trio – V. Allegro