Trio Wanderer SMETANA Piano Trio - LISZT Elegies

The combination of Smetana, one of the 19th century's more conservative composers, and Liszt, one of its radicals, is not a common one on recordings, but after you finish with this extraordinary album by France's Trio Wanderer it will seem to make perfect sense. It is the idea of the elegy, a popular one in the 19th century, that ties the program together. Several of the Liszt works involved are designated as elegies, but even those that are not somehow touch on remembrances of things past. The Smetana Trio in G minor, Op. 15, was written after the death of the composer's four-year-old daughter, Bedriska, of scarlet fever in 1855. The Trio Wanderer gives a very fine performance of this work, capturing the violent contrasts in the opening movement between moods of nostalgic memory and the fervent grief of the present. But it is the works by Liszt -- not a composer known for his chamber music -- that really set this release apart. All come from late in his career, and several are transcriptions of earlier works. These are not the usual sort of utilitarian Romantic-era transcription, however. Instead, they represent new stages in Liszt's thinking about the work, and about the events that inspired them, such as, in the case of the violin-and-piano version of the song Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Cell at Nonnenwerth, track 2), his final excursion with his married lover, the Countess Marie d'Agoult. Liszt does not simply reproduce the original song, but adds a downbeat conclusion, as if pessimistically recollecting the story. All of the Liszt pieces have some kind of fluid identity, and they reveal a side of the composer's late style that has been there for all to see but hasn't been much investigated due to the tendency to place the "work" on a pedestal. The emphasis on the idea of elegy illuminates both Liszt and Smetana and reveals a largely ignored connection: one of the few champions of the Smetana trio when it appeared in the 1850s was none other than Franz Liszt. Notes by Jan Wolfrum, in French, English, and German, provide deep but highly readable background, and the engineering is nonpareil. Superb, groundbreaking, and quite moving music-making.

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