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Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Piano Trio No.1 in F major, Op. 18 (1863) [29.17]
Gabriel FAUR… (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. 2013, Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, New York, USA
BRIDGE 9441 [67.46]

This is the debut recording of the Horszowski trio, named after the pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski. Near the beginning of his very long life – he was born in 1892 and died in 1993 – Horszowski toured France as a child prodigy, played for Faurť, met Saint-SaŽns and might have met d’Indy, the three composers represented here. Much later he moved to the USA where his pupils included Richard Goode, Peter Serkin, Murray Perahia – and Rieko Aizawa, the pianist of this trio and his last pupil. The other members are the violinist Jesse Mills and the cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, who also contributes the sleeve-notes to this recording. They are based in new York.

The piano trio does not have a long history in France, and the first trio of Saint-SaŽns, which he wrote in in 1863, is one of the earliest French works of note in this form. The Alkan is the only earlier one which occurs to me. It is a typical Saint-SaŽns production: cheerful, elegant, superbly made and entertaining without attempting to plumb any depths. There are lots of good tunes, a great deal of variety and, in the scherzo, superb rhythmic invention. At nearly half an hour this is much the longest work in this programme; perhaps the last movement slightly outstays its welcome but one welcomes the prodigality of invention of the young Saint-SaŽns. The three players are well attuned to one another though I immediately noticed the eloquent cello of Raman Ramakrishnan from the opening. The piano writing is very virtuosic and in the opening and closing movements tends to overpower the other two players, as if in a concerto against an orchestra of only two. Rieko Aizawa is very nimble, but does not quite command the careless nonchalance which the writing seems to require. I wonder whether a more restrained approach would have reduced the tendency for the piano to overbalance the ensemble. This I found in the Florestan Trio version, which I prefer in this work.

For most of his life d’Indy was an intensely serious disciple of Franck and Wagner, rather out of place and out of fashion in France except for a short period in the 1890s. He excelled in the integrity of his ideas and the craftsmanship of their working out but was rather short on lyrical invention. However, towards the end of his life all this changed. After a long widowerhood he made a happy second marriage to a much younger woman and they took to spending their summers in the South of France. From this period come a handful of works which are in contrast to his earlier ones: relaxed and cheerful in manner and with the lyrical gift which had eluded him earlier. The Trio Op. 98 is subtitled ‘en forme de suite’ and apart from the opening Entrťe, which is in sonata form, the other movements are reworkings of classic French dance forms: an Air, a Courante and a Gigue. You might think of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin which similarly reworks old dance forms but d’Indy’s interest in them was of long standing. This trio is wholly delightful, and d’Indy’s piano writing creates no problems of balance such as I found in the Saint-SaŽns. The Air gives an opportunity for Jesse Mills’ stylish violin playing to soar and in the Courante there is a rather Chopinesque interlude for the piano solo where Azaiwa comes into her own. The final Gigue is playful and happy.

Faure’s Trio is also a late work but in quite different circumstances. The composer had lost his hearing and one result is that his late works are subtle and elusive. This trio is in fact his penultimate work with only the strange and withdrawn string quartet remaining to be written. This is the finest work in the programme and it also gets the best performance. The opening Allegro ma non troppo begins in a remote mood, as if Faure is saying: “I seem to remember something from long ago, which went something like this”, but gradually gets stronger with a climax in augmented harmony and ending with a fully Ronmantic outburst. The Andantino is entirely lyrical, but with constant modal twists in the melody and shifting harmonies. The final Allegro vivo is a fully spirited piece and Trio Horszowski respond with an impassioned performance.

The question of comparisons is bound up with that of programmes. Saint-SaŽns wrote two piano trios and many people interested in the first will want the obvious coupling with the second. Two outstanding recent versions which offer this coupling are those by the Florestan Trio, which I have mentioned, and Trio Wanderer. You will find a comparative review of these by Ian Lace here and one just of the Florestan version by Tony Haywood here. D’Indy also wrote two piano trios, but his first features the clarinet, with the violin as a permitted alternative. There are a few other recordings of each but, strangely, not currently one which couples the two. Faurť’s trio is his only work in the form. Again there are versions by the Florestan, coupled with Debussy and Ravel, and by Trio Wanderer, interestingly coupled with Piernť’s Trio, quite a rare bird, reviewed here. However, I would not be surprised if Trio Horszowski follow up this debut with a successor featuring Saint-SaŽns’ second trio and d’Indy’s first with perhaps the Chausson trio or even the Ravel, the finest of all French piano trios, to make up the programme. In any case I am happy to recommend this disc particularly for the d’Indy and the Faurť. The recording is clear but a bit close.

Stephen Barber

Previous review: Michael Cookson (Recording of the Month)