The Melbourne-based Trio Anima Mundi was formed in 2008 and this is its debut album. Its programme has been drawn from its first four themed seasons of concerts: Hurlstone from an English music feature, d’Ollone from a clutch of Prix de Rome prizewinners, Wirén from a ‘Nordic Lights’ series and Hyde from ‘Visions of Femininity’.
The best piece comes first: the soaring cello melody opening William Hurlstone’s Piano Trio in G launches a movement as memorable and perfectly proportioned as anything by Brahms. Its side-slipping modulations may remind you of Dohnányi, without the last ounce of that master’s sly humour, while the scherzo – the next best movement – recalls Dvorak quite as much as the booklet’s suggestion of Schubert. The finale, earnestly throwing a fugato into the mix, opens and stays in the tonic minor, just as does the Mendelssohn ‘Italian’. Hurlstone (1876-1906) was one of the few composition pupils unreservedly admired by the rarely satisfied Stanford: his early death (after a lifetime plagued by ill-health) was mourned far and wide. He composed much, nevertheless: both the listed all-Hurlstone rival versions offer the Piano Quartet, the two-disc Lyrita also the Piano Concerto. The catalogue also sports multiple versions of works for clarinet and bassoon with piano. The new Trio performance is excellent and persuasive, it at times rhythmically unyielding; the spacious recording makes the strings sound less edgy than the rival versions, particularly the close-miked Tunnells. Anima Mundi pianist Kenji Fujimura, here and throughout, throws off the requisite cascades of notes with due panache, albeit with some unrelieved fortes (particularly in sequences of accents) in places where Dussek and Tunnell find more sensitive shaping.
Miriam Hyde’s Fantasy Trio completes a short first disc. Adelaide-born Hyde (1913-2005) studied at the Royal College of Music for three years with Gordon Jacob and compatriot Arthur Benjamin, finding time to appear as soloist in the premiere of her own two piano concertos and – inspired by the influential Cobbett chamber-music Prize requirement (a one-movement, less-than-ten-minute Fantasy) to complete this trio in 1933. (She came second in the Cobbett the following year.) Trio artists looking for a short concert opener should note that purely as an an overture, this fervidly Franckian outpouring may not fill the bill. The booklet postulates the influence of Rachmaninov, slight here where discernible at all. The recapitulation seems severely truncated, distorting the overall proportion of an otherwise fine if unmemorable work.
The second disc opens with the full-scale (four-movements, 29-minutes) Trio in A minor by Prix de Rome prizewinner d’Ollone: full Christian name Maximilien-Paul-Marie-Felix, magnificent but prudently shortened (here as elsewhere) to Max. As with Hyde, Franck is a strong influence on the turbulent first movement; the exquisitely serene second recalls Faure. Rochelle Ughetti and Miranda Brockman seem reluctant at times to drop into the background, while Fujimura, fearlessly negotiating a bristling piano part up there with that of the Franck Violin Sonata, nevertheless makes a plain creature out of the Molto tranquillo theme from 3’36” embedded in the cascading figuration. I could imagine just this moment being better done, but there seem to be no rival CD versions anywhere. The scherzo flirts with whole-tone scales; the closing ‘Tarantella’ has a catchy chromatic ‘tag’ hut frustratingly stops just when you thought it would settle down to some serious development.
Dag Wirén, possibly the best-known composer here on account of his perennially fresh Serenade for strings, produced his concise First Trio (tour movements, 15 minutes) in 1932. This too is a delight, though the ticking of composition-student boxes reaches its apogee in the finale, whose main theme (first heard in the opening movement and in constant attendance between times) is scrupulously augmented, inverted and – what’s the word? – stretto’d. Wirén later developed this cyclic-theme treatment into an official ‘metamorphosis technique’; meanwhile he liked this particular theme so much that he carried it – or its near-identical first cousin – into his next opus, the delectable and little-known Sinfonietta, Op. 7. Op. 6 is in a key ungrateful for strings, C sharp minor, provoking just one fleeting passage of discomfort in the finale. Elsewhere , and throughout, these performances form the most impressive of debuts, the Wirén even outclassing the more-effortful-all-round Stockholm players (on a nevertheless treasurable all-Wirén chamber disc).
Dropping the Hyde would have brought the total playing time to within the range of a single CD, but generously these two new discs are offered for the price of one. Those Trio Anima Mundi concert series included mouth-watering items by Ireland, Stanford, Theodore Dubois, Niels Gade, Louise Farrenc and Elfrida Andrée: I eagerly await their appearance on future albums, meanwhile strongly recommending this release to lovers of fine playing and unjustly neglected repertoire.