If Benjamin Godard's name is even vaguely
familiar today, it's because of his Berceuse
a tenor aria from the opera Jocelyn
, the piece turned up
in all sorts of instrumental arrangements as it gained in popularity
- it was a staple of the sort of "Gems from the Classics"
collections once beloved of amateur pianists - thus propagating
a reflexive notion of Godard as a minor salon composer. The present
program, rather grandly described as the composer's "complete
piano trios", should do much to elevate his reputation.
I was partial to the adeptly crafted F major trio, which takes in a number of characteristically "French" features. Deep, rippling piano figurations set the opening pulse, over which violin and cello spin arching phrases; by contrast, the piano takes the lead in the more serene second theme. The remainder of the movement is intricately worked out, with the music's lyrical vein retaining primacy. The second movement is a flowing Adagio
; concentrated and introspective, it's the emotional center of the piece. The third movement is a playful 6/8 scherzo, dominated by the scampering piano, in the familiar Saint-Saëns style. The finale maintains a dramatic surge and sweep through both its bold first subject and its gentler second one.
The G minor trio - antedating its companion by just four years, despite the difference in opus numbers - is less imaginative, though equally attractive. The opening Allegro
immediately embarks on a Franckian turbulence - the piano's filler patterns here verge on the overbearing - but with a more stable tonality, finally subsiding into calm at the close. The second movement takes a scherzando
theme and shoehorns it into minuet rhythm, lending it an unexpectedly severe aspect; the following Andante quasi Adagio
is restrained and lyrical. Unfortunately, the finale, which resumes the first movement's turbulent drive, more or less just stops - one wants not only a more emphatic conclusion, but a bit more of the movement, which feels disproportionately short.
The Trio Parnassus might better have "buttoned" that final cadence. Otherwise, their poised playing makes a strong case for all this music, including the tactful, sensitive Berceuse
. The players seem always to find time to phrase expressively, yet the impression of clear purpose and artistic unanimity is never disturbed. The pianist, Chia Chou, deserves particular praise for his wide dynamic and tonal range: the arpeggiated patterns suggest reserves of tonal weight; elsewhere he articulates individual notes with a delicate, crystalline ping. Clear, warm, and appealing sound reproduction further enhances the proceedings.
Enthusiastically recommended, particularly to devotees of the French Romantics.
Stephen Francis Vasta