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Hyperion Records

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The Prophetess Libuse (1893) by Vitezlav Karel Masek (1865-1927)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67730
Recording details: December 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2010
Total duration: 21 minutes 7 seconds

'An imaginatively planned programme … [Eben Trio] the work of a man with a keen ear and a probing spirit … this is the sort of score that the Florestans seem to relish, music full of subtle shades, many of them tucked carefully within subsidiary voices … [Smetana] is an immensely imposing piece, written in the wake of great personal loss, and the Florestans do it justice … this is an excellent programme, beautifully recorded' (Gramophone)

'The Florestan are particularly successful in the two 20th-century trios. The brief Adagio of the Martinů is remarkably moving. If anything, the Eben is more impressive with the players completely in command of his distinctive and often introspective idiom' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The Florestan Trio give exemplary accounts of the two classic Czech trios … apart from the masterly Suk Trio, it is difficult to imagine them surpassed … all in all, this is a stimulating programme with recorded sound in the high traditions of the house' (International Record Review)

Piano Trio
1986; first performed the same year by the New Prague Trio

Drammatico  [4'46]
Lento  [4'54]
Agitato  [4'33]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Piano Trio was written in 1986, and first performed that year by the New Prague Trio. Eben himself described how his experience of piano trios went back to his early years in Ceský Krumlov. With himself on the piano, his father on violin, and his brother on cello, the family would play through the trio repertoire. He always felt that the old wooden-framed pianos must have been much better able to blend with the strings than ‘today’s armoured grand instruments’. This conviction led him to adopt in this work a different way of writing for piano trio, in which, instead of attempting to blend the three instruments, he exploits the differences between piano and strings: ‘In so far as I did not feel that the sound of the three instruments was totally congruous, I wanted to demonstrate their polarity and to contradict the sound of the piano with the sound of the strings. Rather than a trio, this is a cycle for string duo and piano.’

This approach is evident straight away in the first movement, in which piano and strings often play highly contrasted music—abrupt piano flourishes versus quiet string chords, staccato against legato, different rhythmic patterns and metres vying with each other. The second movement is less combative. Here, Eben says, ‘the violoncello and violin have merged into being like one single string instrument of great range’. The piano part echoes this emphasis on wide range, often playing sinuous lines of melody four octaves apart.

The third movement shows the contrast between piano and strings at its most extreme. The piano plays a trudging funeral march, rising to a fortissimo climax, and falling back again. Against this solemn procession, the violin and cello play a delicate waltz, with, just before the climax, ‘a hint of the polonaise’. The effect is reminiscent of the multi-layered textures of Charles Ives, and of the cinema’s technique of showing two contrasted scenes simultaneously.

The finale brings the musicians together, throwing energetic fragments from strings to piano and back again, with many shifts of accent and changes of metre. Here, we can hear most clearly the link with Martinu, in the music’s jazzy rhythmic verve and sharp-edged clarity of texture.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2010

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