Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Piano Trio No.1 in F major, Op. 18 (1863) [29.17]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120 (1923) [19.25]
Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, ‘In the Form of a Suite’, Op. 98 (1929) [18.59]
Horszowski Trio (Jesse Mills (violin); Raman Ramakrishnan (viola); Rieko Aizawa (piano))
rec. 23-24 July, 24 September 2013, Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, New York, USA
BRIDGE 9441 [67.46]
Two recordings of French chamber music each from New York-based ensembles on the Bridge label arrived on the same day.

First I reviewed the Trio Solisti playing the piano trios of Ravel and Chausson. Next up was a recording from the Horszowski Trio with its debut release on Bridge comprising three attractive scores for piano trio from Saint-Saëns, Fauré and d’Indy. Founded in 2011 the Horszowski Trio takes its name from renowned Polish-American pianist Mieczysław Horszowski (1892-1993). The trio was inspired by Horszowski’s “musicianship, integrity, and humanity” with member Rieko Aizawa being the distinguished pianist’s last pupil.

The Saint-Saëns trio is the best known score here followed by the Fauré with the d’Indy undoubtedly the least known. French chamber music had been slow in its development having been primarily the preserve of the Austro-Germans especially Beethoven. Crucially in 1871 the Société Nationale de Musique was established to encourage home-grown talent to write chamber works. At the vanguard of this movement was the highly prolific Saint-Saëns. The relatively early Piano Trio No.1 in F major, Op. 18 was completed in 1863 before Saint-Saëns had written any of his thirteen operas. Cast in the traditional Classical Viennese four movement pattern this work to wait until 1867 for its première.

Especially enjoyable are the opening two movements with themes that linger long in the memory. The opening Allegro vivace featuring a rhythmic and attractive main theme is played with a windswept buoyancy variegated with slower and almost apprehensive passages.

With its main theme taken from an Auvergne folk-song the Andante is even more catchy than that in the opening movement. Here the players convey a slightly darker mood of song-like contemplation, evoking yearning as if waiting for the return of a loved one. Jaunty and highly-spirited, the Scherzo: Presto could easily be a depiction of a prankster. In the Finale: Allegro tender reflection vies with rather serious episodes that evoke the experience of nervous anticipation.

Saint-Saëns’ two piano trios are greatly admired and there are a number of splendid recordings. There are richly accomplished and compelling accounts from the Vienna Piano Trio recorded in 2012 at Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster on MDG Gold. Another worthy of consideration is from the Trio Wanderer notable for its elegance and broad expression. It was recorded for Harmonia Mundi in 2004 at Salle Modulable IRCAM, Paris.

In 1923 when Fauré was around seventy-eight he composed the Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120. Throughout his relatively long life he wrote chamber music including the splendid piano quartets and quintets and a number of admirable duo sonatas. In a final burst of productivity Fauré produced this Piano Trio and his very last composition the String Quartet in E minor, Op 121. In the assured hands of the Horszowski Trio the opening Allegro, ma non troppo contains a curious beauty, tinged with melancholy. Although agreeable the substantial central Andantino is intensely sad with just the suggestion of unrequited love. The final Allegro vivo is squally, rather moody in character, yet maintains the composer’s trademark congeniality.

Of these three composers the least known is the terribly neglected Parisian, Vincent d’Indy who is represented by his Piano Trio No. 2 in G major ‘In the Form of a Suite’, Op. 98. Designed as an updated baroque French dance suite this is a late work written in 1929 when the seventy-nine year old d’Indy was staying in the south of France. The Horszowski play the opening Entrée, en sonate. Modéré with engaging affection, conveying a sense of a lovelorn relationship beset with emotional difficulties. Next the rather brief Air - Très modérément animé suggests the scene of a seabird riding on a thermal, easily coping with an occasional up-blast. With its baroque-like tonalities the penultimate movement marked Courante: Lent et solennel is beautifully played and imbued with intense passionate longing. The dance-like Finale: Gigue en rondeau, sur une chanson française. Joyeusement abounds in delighted high-spirits.

Bridge's engineers have provided a close, cool sound that is vividly clear and excellently balanced.

This winning French chamber music programme is compellingly played.

Michael Cookson

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