Diamonds in a Haystack
Arno BABAJANIAN (1921-1983)
Piano trio in F-sharp minor (1952) [23:06]
Jean FRANCAIX (1912-1997)
Piano trio (1986) [17:22]
Paul SCHOENFIELD (b.1947)
Café Music (1987) [15:52]
Trio Solis (Corinne Stillwell, violin; Gregory Sauer, cello; Read Gainsford, piano)
rec. 10-11 May 2010 and 5-7 March 2011, Opperman Music Hall, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS 1418 [56:20]

This CD brings together three gems. Arno Babajanian’s piano trio begins with a largo redolent of Rachmaninov, and continues in a romantic fashion which must have been long out of style when he wrote the work in 1952. The composer, who was “discovered” by Khachaturian, unites each movement with a motto theme and spins long-limbed melodies for each instrument in turn; notable moments include the first movement’s abrupt ending and the andante’s glorious main tune. It sounds a bit like “I have a love” from West Side Story. Jean Françaix’s trio has the neo-classical simplicity and bubbling humor which makes almost all of his music a delight to hear. The outer movements have rocking pizzicato for cello and there’s urbane French charm all over the place. Then we have Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, one of the funniest and most good-natured pieces by any living composer. There are many influences on this album, from the Armenian mystique of the Babajanian to the outright jazziness of Café Music, with its quasi-improvisatory solos and wistful evocations of klezmer bands, Broadway nights, and old Vienna. Competition is more fierce in Schoenfield than the others: the Trio Eroica have made it a staple of their repertoire, and there is a Trio Solisti album on Bridge, but this effort has nothing to fear except the fact that ‘Trio Solisti’ and ‘Trio Solis’ both recording the same piece is very confusing.
The Babajanian is an awkward fit in the program because it doesn’t share in the light, dashing, witty mood of the other two works, but it’s none the worse for that. So this is a very enjoyable hour of chamber music, even more so because it’s a great pleasure to spend that hour in the company of these three players. The Trio Solis, a group of teachers from Florida State University who banded together in 2008 (Corinne Stillwell, violin; Gregory Sauer, cello; Read Gainsford, piano), are fully alive to the romantic moods of Babajanian and the charms of the other two composers. They are very well-recorded, which makes this an extremely easy disc to like and want others to like.
This is a short review, but I don’t have much to say except that I liked this music a lot, it doesn’t require much description to appreciate, if you haven’t heard it you very much should, and the CD is terrific. The booklet is very well-done. And then there’s the amusing cover, which shows the players surrounded by scores for piano trios. Look closely: I see Brahms, Beethoven (twice), Takemitsu, and Tchaikovsky, but not Babajanian, Françaix, or Schoenfield! Let’s hope it’s a teaser for their next album.
Brian Reinhart 

The three piano trios are gems, two of them brimming with wit and merriment, and all well-played.