The Minerva Trio

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0658

This is a hugely rewarding disc of works inspired by the dance.  Two masterworks from the early 20th century, here in fascinating arrangements, bookend three contemporary works.

Richard Birchall the cellist of the trio is also a composer, and his Contours from 2014 is a short four movement suite of highly contrasted movements, exploring the meaning of the work’s title in different contexts. The grotesque final waltz is a veritable totentanz. As if there are no ends to Mr. Birchall’s talent he is also a gifted arranger, and here contributes an excellent and inventive arrangement of movements from Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella. 

The ballet exists in various guises, including arrangements  for violin and piano or cello and piano.  Here the three instruments are brilliantly united.  The Presto: Una te fallan zemprecce has never sounded better and the riotous finale is given a gleam of elegance which is all to the good.

Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw’s piano solo Gustave le Gray is presented in an arrangement by pianist Annie Yim. The piano is still prominent, but the violin and cello expertly contribute additional lines and colour. Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 17 No. 4 appears and disappears in the pulsating gestures.

Cheryl Frances- Hoad My Fleeting Angel is based on a short story involving suicide by Sylvia Plath. As one might expect it is suitably turbulent and troubled. Ms. Frances-Hoad packs a great deal of incident into this 9-minute roller coaster of a work. In the central movement Miss Yim’s nimble finger work at opposite extremes of the keyboard is thrilling. This is a really distinguished addition to the piano trio repertoire and it could not hope for a better performance.

The disc ends with a superb arrangement by David Knotts of three movements from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, originally for very large orchestra and chorus. It is a testament to Mr. Knotts’ skill, that if one did not know the original one would imagine this was a work for piano trio. The tension built up by the group in the war dance is positively cinematic in its scope.

The Minerva Trio really are a superb group of young musicians, who in this disc perform flawlessly. Not just flawless technique but flawless musicality, each movement of each work is beautifully shaped. The recording, likewise, is of demonstration quality. I look forward hearing much more from them.

Review by Paul RW Jackson