by David Barker

This is the debut recording for the Muses Trio, and the performers are to be congratulated on choosing such an imaginative programme. In the past few years, I have reviewed a number of debut recordings by trios who have opted for the standard repertoire, doing neither themselves nor the listening public any favours. None of that here, as three of the works are world premieres, and the Kats-Chernin, which gives the CD its title, gets its first commercially available recording. Further, they have chosen to offer an extra track – the Beach Romance – which presumably overfilled the disc; all this with crowd funding.

The Spirit and The Maiden was written for the Macquarie Trio, and I heard it performed a few years later by that trio’s pianist Kathryn Selby with her new trio, TriOz. It is a quite wonderful work, and I despaired of ever hearing it on record. It is inspired by a Russian fairy-tale, of a young girl who encounters a spirit in the form of a beautiful young man at the village well. I won’t spend any more words on the story, suffice to say that it doesn’t end happily. The music portrays the drama, passion and tragedy of the story perfectly.

The other really outstanding work bookends the CD. I hadn’t heard Jennifer Higdon’s two-movement trio before: clearly my loss. The Pale Yellow movement is gentle and meltingly lyrical, and Fiery Red is certainly fiery and dramatic. I can’t say that the music summons up those colours for me, but as a piece of music, it is a cracker. It has been recorded by Naxos (review) with a rather stellar ensemble including Anne Akiko Meyers and Alisa Weilerstein.

To say that these two works are outstanding should not be read as downplaying the others, because there isn’t a weak work on the recording.

Judith Bingham’s work also deals with water, but real locations this time. Chapman’s Pool is a cove on the Dorset coast of England, and Bingham evokes the changing moods of the sea. It is the most “difficult” of the works presented here, though certainly not inaccessible, just sparing in its use of melody. I didn’t warm to it, but I can certainly see the quality.

Nadia Boulanger’s pieces for cello and piano – more intelligent programming, giving us variety – are deliciously French, and make one wish that her time had not been so completely dominated by teaching, and that a little more could have been found for composing. The Kaprálová Elegy, written a year before her death of tuberculosis, packs a lot of punch in its less than three minutes. In the bonus Romance, provided in wav format, I found the violin’s sound a little thin and certainly not warm enough for this type of music. It may be that this was the reason it was not included on the CD itself.

The three world premiere works by contemporary Australian composers are all enjoyable. The Kate Neal work, written as soundtrack for a short film reminded me of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, while the Elton Tango, written for the Muses Trio, arose from her time in New York City, but most of all, recalls the tangos of Piazzolla. The Boleros by Louise Denson were originally written as part improvisations for her jazz ensemble, and have made a smooth transition to classical piano trio.

The three performers have strong national and international credentials, and their work here is very good, committed and passionate. I commented on the violin sound in the Beach, and there were other times when the string timbre was a little grainy for my liking, enhanced by a somewhat dry acoustic. Notes are mostly thorough, though there were instances, the Higdon for example, where I would have liked to have known more about the music in addition to the biographical material.

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