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Roberto GERHARD (1896-1970)
Piano Trio no.1 (1918) [24:38]
Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912-2002)
Piano Trio (1986-88) [12:20]
Gaspar CASSADÓ (1897-1966)
Piano Trio in C (1926-29) [16:27]
Trio Arriaga (Daniel Ligorio (piano); Felipe Rodriguez (violin), David Apellániz (cello))
rec. Auditori de Santa Coloma de Gramanet Can Roig i Torres, Barcelona, 8 February 2010. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

This CD presents the Piano Trios of three composers, Gerhard, Montsalvatge and Cassadó, linked far more by their Catalan identity than through their musical styles, which the programme notes label 'avant-garde', 'eclectic' and 'nationalist' respectively.
The Trio Arriaga open their recital with Gerhard's Trio, unusual in that it does not sound like Gerhard! It was written before he became one of Spain's first avant-gardists, that is before he studied with Schoenberg and started lacing his music with atonality. This lengthy tripartite work is strongly lyrical, often sensual, sounding more French or sometimes British than Spanish. The CD gives this as Piano Trio 'no.1', but that is slightly misleading in that in the second, as the booklet notes do indicate, a clarinet replaces the cello. It is a pleasing, relatively undemanding work that might have long since secured a place in the repertoire if not for the name attached to it - yet Gerhard was not an out-and-out modernist and many of his later works can still be considered lyrical and relatively audience-friendly.
Xavier Montsalvatge's much later Piano Trio could easily have come from Gerhard's pen - dreamy, restrained, melodic, in many ways it is a shortened, harmonically modernised version of the latter's Trio, with little of the Catalan flavour that usually typifies Montsalvatge's highly original music. Note-writer Albert Ferrer Flamarich describes it as "as a whole [...] a little uneven", an unnecessarily negative note for a work most listeners should find thoroughly appealing, with the finale indeed rather memorably jaunty.
Gaspar Cassadó's Trio is still in the repertory of some ensembles, and the reason for that is obvious from the opening bars - this is the most original and most powerful work on the CD by a distance. Considerably more virtuosic than the first two, it is also decidedly more Spanish-sounding, thanks especially to its native folk rhythms, which recall the likes of Granados and Turina. In fact, in previous recordings Cassadó's Trio has appeared alongside those of this very pair, for example on Chandos a decade ago (CHAN 9834) and again on Challenge Classics (72322).
On the subject of competition for the Spanish Trio Arriaga, the Montsalvatge Trio has also appeared at least twice before, most recently on a Columna Música monograph in the mid 2000s (1CM0063). This Spanish label, incidentally, is the best label to go to for Montsalvatge's music, although his well-known Canción Negra no.4 is as likely to pop up anywhere. Gerhard predictably has seen the most recordings, for example on La Mà de Guido (LMG 2065) in 2005, again with the Granados Trio, and on a monographic release by the same label a couple of years earlier (LMG 2021), performed rather aptly by the Trio Gerhard; and most recently on Columna Música again (1CM0185, 2008). Naxos, rather surprisingly, have yet to release an all-Gerhard CD - the closest they come is an inherited 1990s Marco Polo disc of his piano music (8.223867).
As for the Trio Arriaga here, they deliver strong, expressive performances, particularly of the Cassadó, with intuitive ensemble give-and-take and a mature sound. The cheaper Naxos cover price may steer waverers their way in any case, although against that must be weighed the fact that this is a pretty short disc and the sound quality, though reasonably good, is just slightly muffled and perhaps a little thin at times. Notes in English and Spanish are somewhat brief, but informative and well translated. The Trio Arriaga's biographical note is also short and claims that the ensemble has made "a definitive recording" of Turina's complete Piano Trios - surely a judgement best left to posterity.
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