All of the composers represented on this CD have reputations for
producing surprising works, and there are certainly a few surprises
here. The composers you might expect to be the most radical -
Ives and Cowell - turn in the most listenable scores, while among
the more traditional names, Copland in particular indulges in
some uncharacteristically caustic Modernism.
Don't be put off though, because every work is fascinating, and
the other composers grab the attention just as well, and without
recourse to unfriendly harmonies. A late work by Amy Beach opens
the programme. There is a feeling of French Impressionism here,
but she always keeps her feet on the ground with rigorous Brahmsian
thematicism. One of her favourite textures is a solo string line
with wispy obbligato from the piano right-hand. It's all very
attractive, and there is some real dramatic substance too.
The early Piano Trio by Charles Ives anticipates many of the musical
ideas for which he later became famous. Disjunction, especially
between the instruments, is the order of the day, and however
progressive his textures become, they are always underpinned with
a wry humour. The second movement is entitled TSIAJ, an acronym
for This Scherzo Is A Joke
. The movement is a classic Ives
montage, with all sorts of borrowed tunes and melodic ideas overlaid
and brought into collision.
The Bloch Three Nocturnes
, as the name suggests, is a more
staid affair. Each of the three has a very particular atmosphere,
dreamy but with clear harmonic identity. Each comes in at between
two and three minutes, which is really a bit short for this sort
of music, and Bloch's minimalist successors would have no qualms
about stretching each out to at least an hour.
by Copland is apparently a study on a Jewish Theme.
Judging by the angularity of its harmonies and voice leading,
he is intent on exaggerating the exotic dimension of his material.
But while the ethnography may be suspect, the music hits the mark,
and Copland cleverly employs the distinctive motivic identity
of his theme to create propulsion and identity.
The Henry Cowell Trio, Four Combinations of Three Instruments
is the real surprise on the disc. Stylistically, it is easily
the most conservative of the works. It is easy-going and melodic,
often playing out as just one line doubled between the instruments
or simple two part textures. But if you listen closely, you can
hear some distinctive Cowell traits. In the second movement, for
example, the piano plays almost throughout in clusters, but the
clusters are carefully chosen and played so quietly that they
sound like extended diatonic chords. An experimental work, then,
but one that is also calculated not to offend.
The performances are good, if not outstanding. The intonation
between the violin and cello is an occasional problem. The recording
was made in 1992, and while the sound is acceptable, the recording
shows its age. I'd have liked more piano in the mix, not that
it is ever obscured, but it is sometimes deprived of the chance
to lead the ensemble.
This is a fascinating disc, and the gaps it is likely to plug
in your CD collection are the sort of gaps you didn't know you
had. The packaging is on the perfunctory side, and at the risk
of sounding hopelessly pedantic, the liner-notes could do with
a friendlier font. But I'd recommend it to the curious, and especially
to players in adventurous piano trios on the look-out for new
repertoire. Many of these works deserve a much wider audience.
… and a review by Rob Barnett
Dal Segno in a burst of reissues regale us afresh with discs that
may well have escaped us first time around. This is a well mixed
collection and is a successor to the Hartley Trio's British and
Czech piano trio discs: Dvorák: Piano Trio in G minor,
op.26*; Fibich: Trio in F minor* Gamut GAMCD 523 (1991); Bridge:
Phantasie in C minor; Clarke: Piano Trio*; Ireland: Phantasie
in A minor* Gamut GAMCD 518 (1990)
I have not heard the others but this one adopts a warmly cloaked
sound - a cocooned effect with calorific radiance aplenty.
The Beach is romantic and witty, rather Brahmsian yet pointed
and florid. It's a confident piece of writing recalling the Franck
chamber works. The Ives Trio - over three movements - manages
both avant-garde and fragmented expressionism. Its second movement
is frenetic and makes wildly anarchic and discordant play across
some 20 popular tunes. It’s the sort of piece that would
at one stage have appealed to Peter Maxwell Davies - it is termed
TSIAJ (This Scherzo Is A Joke). The trio dissonantly melts Rock
out of focus and back and out again. Fascinating.
Bloch, we are reminded by the pithy notes, became an American
citizen in 1924, the same year in which he wrote these Three
. The first of these is an Andante
intense and darkly optimistic with gritty courage and chiming
beauty in the piano part at 00:29. The Andante quieto
tender and close to sentimental. Ruthless determination invigorates
which is further evidence that when Bloch
sets about nocturne writing he is not interested just in sleep.
It makes an edgy end to the Nocturnes
. Copland's Vitebsk
is dedicated to Roy Harris. It's a vinegary and uningratiating
piece: much troubled, melodramatic and forthright. It ends quietly.
Henry Cowell is a fascinating composer and something of an undiscovered
colossus such is the span of his output. His Trio - Four Combinations
of Three Instruments
- is another work in which dissonance
is accommodated with subtlety alongside a more slowly evolutionary
and limpid melodic line. Most striking of the movements is the
dewdrop Bachian chiming and trilling of the final and magical
. The four movements deploy: I, violin and cello II,
violin and piano, III, cello and piano, IV, all three instruments.
As is characteristic of these Dal Segnos no total playing time
is declared and the notes are anonymous.
A subtle collection satisfyingly avoiding the obvious.