Classical: The Compact Collection

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THE HUNGARIAN-BORN composer Peter Eotvos views Chekhov's play The Three Sisters from three distinct perspectives. "I tell the story three times," he tells us in Deutsche Grammophon's recorded listener's guide; "on each occasion with a different character as the focus of attention." The three "Sequences" of Eotvos's opera are devoted, respectively, to two sisters and one brother - namely Irina, Andrei and Masha. The opening Prologue has the sisters sing of their sufferings to an evocative accordion accompaniment. A vivid aural conflagration in the First Sequence depicts a fire in town; there's a rasping trombone line that follows the Doctor as he smashes the family clock, and a telling reference to Gremin's Aria (Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin) a little further on. There's even a full- blown aria (Second Sequence, No 20) as Andrei regrets the passing of time.

The most powerful music reflects the inner conflicts suffered by Chekhov's characters. One especially haunting passage occurs in the third Sequence. Masha and the officer Vershinin, both of whom are married to other people, are caught in an emotional maelstrom, and the sickly pulsing of strings that trails Vershinin's admission that Masha is "a wonderful, marvellous woman" (disc 2, track 12, from 6m 13s) expresses both the power and the helplessness of his situation. A minute or so later, he compliments her on the radiance of her eyes, the way she moves; and Eotvos traces his words with an insidious sensuality that even Berg might have been proud of.

I won't pretend that's an easy listen - and the libretto is sometimes a bit of a brain-teaser - but the music itself is peculiarly alluring. Deutsche Grammophon's recording is taken from the 1998 world premiere performance at the Lyon Opera. Kent Negano conducts the "orchestra in the pit", and Eotvos the "off-stage orchestra". Negano's all-male cast is wholly credible, but special mention should be made of Albert Schagidullin, a regal baritone in the tradition of the great Andrei Ivanov and an ideal voice for Chekhov's Andrei. An equally unexpected spot of cross-dressing has the mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore sing Romeo to the soprano Hei-Kyung Hong's Juliet in Bellini's I Capuleti ed I Montecchi. It's the best of Bellini's earlier operas, though Felice Romani's libretto differs significantly from Shakespeare's play, especially in its unexpected denouement. Donald Runnicles conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with a supporting cast of Paul Groves, Raymond Aceto and Robert Lloyd. For me, the score's musical high spot arrives towards the end of the first act, a Schubertian quintet in which the lovers pray for protection from their respective families. You'll find it on track 21 of the first CD. Still, my own taste veers more in the direction of Schumann and Brahms, which is why a new RCA disc of clarinet trios featuring Michael Collins with the pianist Stephen Hough and the cellist Steven Isserlis would top Bellini on my CD shopping list. Brahms's Clarinet Trio is a lovely piece, at once questioning and comforting, and Schumann's gently narrative Marchenerzahlungen are full of imaginative ideas. But the big news here is an unashamedly romantic Trio by the Lvov- born Carl Fruhling (1868-1937), a gorgeous work redolent of Wagner and Chausson and henceforth an urgent repertory consideration. Collins et al conclude their programme with Schumann's "Traumerei" as sensitively re-worked for trio by Isserlis - and with a touchingly effective ending.

Eotvos/ Negano, Eotvos Deutsche Grammophon

459 694 2 (two discs) Bellini/ Runnicles Teldec 3984-21472-2 (two discs) Brahms, Schumann, Fruhling/ Coll- ins, Isserlis, Hough RCA.