Nashville's Blakemore Trio has seemingly done it all. Since its founding a decade ago, the Blair School of Music's terrific trio-in-residence has surveyed a considerable chunk of the classical repertoire. The players have also commissioned important new works and taken them on the road, performing them at New York City's Merkin Concert Hall and other major venues.
Just about the only thing the group hasn't done is release a recording. That oversight is now corrected with Blakemore Trio Plays Beethoven and Ravel. Recorded at Blair's Ingram Hall, the ensemble's debut album features two core works of the chamber repertoire: Beethoven's Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1 "Ghost" and Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor. Blakemore released the disc to celebrate its 10th anniversary this season.
Blakemore's players — pianist Amy Dorfman, violinist Carolyn Huebl and cellist Felix Wang — give Beethoven's famed middle-period trio an appropriately heroic reading. They launch into the work's first movement full bore, playing with power and an almost orchestral sort of sweep.
Interestingly, the slow second movement reminded some 19th century listeners of Banquo's Ghost from Macbeth — hence, the piece's nickname. For the Blakemore players, this music is soulful, not paranormal. So they linger over the music, turning it into a kind of heartfelt meditation. They dispatch the fast finale with effortless virtuosity.
It comes as no surprise that the group would choose to include Ravel's trio on its debut album. Ravel's amazing piece may well be the most challenging work of its kind. Any ensemble that can play it well is guaranteed to make a big impression.
Blakemore does it justice. The group plays the difficult opening "Modéré" with clarity and sensitivity, capturing the work's dreaminess and passion. Ravel, by the way, filled the first movement with exotic Basque dance rhythms. Blakemore plays these rhythms with remarkable flexibility, making the music seem as spontaneous as an improvisation.
Naturally, the group brings a whirlwind of energy both to the second-movement scherzo and to the finale. They are at their level best, though, in the inexorably slow third-movement "Passacaille," achieving a glossiness of texture that calls to mind the surface of a serene lake.
With its debut disc, the Blakemore Trio establishes its bona fides as a top interpreter of the standard repertoire. We can only hope the ensemble doesn't wait another 10 years to release its next album.