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Mauricio KAGEL (b. 1931)
Piano Trio No.1 (1986) [26:01]
Piano Trio No.2 (2001) [18:47]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934–1998)
Piano Trio (1985/1992) [24:11]
Liszt-Trio Weimar (Andreas Lehmann, violin; Tim Stolzenburg, cello; Christian Wilm Müller, piano)
rec. Fürstensaal der Hochschule für Musik “Franz Liszt”, Weimar, September 2004
AEON 0639 [69:42]

Kagel’s First Piano Trio, composed in 1985, pays oblique homage to the Romantic tradition: Brahms, Schumann and Schubert come to mind. Of course, as is often the case with Kagel’s music, things are not necessarily simple or straightforward, although – remarkably enough – he managed to keep parody or pastiche at bay. The First Piano Trio may be one of his most classically conceived pieces. The first movement opens with a Schubertian gesture of beautiful simplicity and considerable restraint. The music weaves a web of tonal allusions, although pure tonality as such is never a goal in itself nor strongly asserted. Indeed, tonal ambiguity prevails throughout. The second movement opens like a furious Scherzo, with forcefully hammered-out piano chords, but the music changes dramatically in a series of short episodes of varied character, in turn almost static and sharply articulated. The third movement, opens in a simple way, much like the first. The music, becomes more animated, and sounds as if building-up to a mighty climax that it does not achieve. Rather it moves into still other directions with unpredictability and without any apparent logic. “One might compare the (first) piano trio with a polyphonic structure of character pieces that return again and again, follow one another, break off abruptly, rise quickly from the background to the surface and slowly disappear.” (the composer’s words).
Written some fifteen years later, the Second Piano Trio is quite different in structure and overall mood. It is in one large-scale single movement opening with hollow, ghastly sounds in slow march tempo. This creates an ominous, eerie mood constantly torn apart by abrupt, volatile interjections. The slow, heavy march tempo, predominates and is sustained throughout in spite of the many asides briefly creating new perspectives, sometimes tinged with bitter irony. The whole piece unfolds in a surreal, ghost-like atmosphere, with many brief and abrupt changes of mood. The global impression is of utter sadness and desolation. After completing the piece, Kagel received a phone call telling him of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 of which the music almost sounds as a premonition.
Do not ask me why, but I have long had the impression that Kagel’s music was not for me; a prejudice defying any logical explanation, I know. However, I have been able to review a few recent discs with some of his pieces, which I have found quite fine. His piano trios belong to his most readily accessible works, probably because they are fairly traditional, in Kagel’s personal way. Most importantly they are strongly expressive, utterly serious and deeply honest. This does not mean that I am now an unconditional fan, but I have come to the conclusion that some of it is certainly worth more than the occasional hearing.
Schnittke’s Piano Trio (1992) is the third version of the Trio-Sonata for string trio commissioned by the Alban-Berg Gesellschaft to commemorate Berg’s 100th anniversary. Some may know the second version as the Trio-Sonata for chamber orchestra made in 1987, and available on BIS CD-537. It is in two movements of broadly equal length, but of contrasted character, the first movement being a slow waltz with varying tempi and the second a long elegiac song. It is a piece in which Schnittke steers clear of polystylism, and is often of deceptive simplicity. The music is tightly worked-out from two cells heard at the outset of the first movement. It avoids any allusion to or quotation from Berg’s music. This, too, is an utterly serious piece, characterised by understatement and introspection.
These serious, often austere works receive superbly poised readings that have the full measure of the music’s undemonstrative eloquence. Some may find the oppressive and desolate mood a bit too much to swallow in one sitting, but listening to each at intervals cannot fail to bring out the expressive power of this often gripping music. A really fine release that should not be missed.
Hubert Culot





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