Home listening: Tchaikovsky, Babajanian and Debussy

An outstanding disc of piano trios from Gluzman, Moser and Sudbin, a world premiere Debussy recording from the Hallé, and Steve Reich at MoMA

• Tchaikovsky disapproved of the piano trio, describing the combination of violin, cello and piano as “unnatural” in a letter to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck, in 1881. Yet a year later he chose the form as the best way to pay tribute to his mentor, the pianist and conductor Nikolai Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor “in memory of a great artist” is the centrepiece of a new recording of Tchaikovsky & Babajanian Piano Trios (BIS) from the starry lineup of violinist Vadim Gluzman, cellist Johannes Moser and pianist Yevgeny Sudbin.

Gluzman, Moser and Sudbin perform Tchaikovsky.

The playing is superb, Gluzman and Moser intoning the impassioned opening elegy with grave authority before Sudbin takes over with all his mercurial brilliance and the music takes flight. The ensuing 11 variations that make up the rest of the lengthy piece and its closing allegro are each imbued with their own distinct colour and character in a profound performance.

That same ferocious intelligence is brought to Arno Babajanian’s piano trio from 1952, a piece rooted in folk song from his native Armenia, and therefore acceptable to Stalin’s cultural policies (which Babajanian quickly threw over when the old monster died a year later). Gluzman’s playing of the aching aria for violin that opens the second movement is just one moment to treasure in this outstanding recording.

• The year Tchaikovsky wrote his trio, his patron Nadezhda von Meck employed a young French pianist to teach her children in Moscow. That was Claude Debussy, whose music Mark Elder and the Hallé orchestra have made something of a speciality in a series of top recordings. Their latest, Nocturnes (Hallé), explores works from across the composer’s career, including his cantata La Damoiselle élue – a reprise of an acclaimed performance given at the Proms last year with soloists Anna Stéphany and Sophie Bevan – and a world premiere recording of the charming Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon, not discovered until 2001 and orchestrated by Colin Matthews.

Watch a trailer for the Hallé’s Nocturnes.

• There’s still time to catch composer Steve Reich talk about Equal, a monumental sculpture by Richard Serra, in The Way I See It (BBC Sounds). A minimalist on a maximalist.

Contributor

Stephen Pritchard

The GuardianTramp

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