Portuguese Piano Trios - Volume 1 Luiz COSTA (1879-1960)
Trio, Op 15 (1937) [18:28] Claúdio CARNEYRO (1895-1963)
Trio, Op 24 (1928) [21:48] Sérgio AZEVEDO (b. 1968) Hukvaldy Trio (2013) [20:00]
Trio Pangea: Bruno Belthoise (piano); Adolfo Rascón Carbajal (violin); Teresa Valente Pereira (cello)
rec. Auditorium of the Conservatorio Superior de Música Eduardo Martinez Torner, Oviedo, Spain, 10-11 January 2015
Première recording (Azevedo) NAXOS 8.573402 [60:24]
According to this disc's short, yet quite informative sleeve-notes, Portuguese composers of the last two centuries have distinguished themselves in symphonic and chamber music. This site has reviewed many CDs - often from Naxos - covering Portugal's symphonic achievements. This is reflected in the works of Lopes-Graça (1906-1994), de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), da Motta (1868-1948) and Bomtempo (1775-1842). Less attention has been paid to the country's chamber music so this disc, the first of a Portuguese Piano Trios series, is welcome.
The collection starts with the trio by Porto-born Luiz Costa. After training in Portugal he continued his studies in Berlin where his teachers included da Motta, Busoni and Stavenhagen. Returning to his homeland he made his mark in concerts playing alongside Cortot, Casals and Suggia. He was also an academic who for a while directed Porto’s Conservatory of Music. He was by no means a parochial figure. In an echo of the work done by Eric Chisholm in Glasgow, Costa drew to Porto some of the great European composers of the century. He was instrumental in securing Portuguese performances of the music of Ravel and his own music echoes with impressionism. This is also apparent from Costa's Poema for cello and orchestra which was reviewed as part of another Naxos disc earlier this month.
Contrary to what might have been expected from the above, Costa’s Trio has a distinctly Brahmsian feel to it. The traditionally-cast four-movement work also has shades of Schumann, particularly in the opening Allegro con fuoco. The contrasting second theme is warmly melodic, and, to begin with, sounds uncannily like the opening gambit from ‘The Hills are alive with The Sound of Music’, from the eponymous 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – enhanced by some rippling arpeggios from the keyboard. The ensuing Adagio is serenely ephemeral, with muted strings adding to its contemplative feel. The athletic Scherzo contrasts with a Trio that is more lushly harmonic and chordal. The closing Allegro assai again depends on fast-moving scale-like passages in octaves from the piano, at times conjuring an almost gypsy feeling. Again cast in a conventional sonata-form, the finale closes with a con larghezza – which is really the only time that the writing offers a reasonably opportunity to hazard a guess at the geographical origin of the work, or indeed its composer.
Born into an artistic household, Claudio Carneyro, travelled to Paris to work with both Widor and Dukas. This followed his initial studies at the Porto Conservatory of Music. A government bursary enabled him to travel to the USA where in the late 1920s he studied with Munch, Copland and Milhaud. Like Costa he returned to his native Porto and there rose to academic eminence at the Conservatory. He wrote many choral works which reflect a fondness for Bach. His other music reflected a range of styles: tonal, modal, chromatic, atonal to 12-tone. French music from the those inter-war years introduced a tinge of mysticism although he also showed a predilection for harmonically harsh colours. He shared with several of his contemporaries a taste for the traditional music of his homeland.
Composed in 1928, and predating Costa’s example by some nine years, Carneyro’s Trio, reflects all these voices. Cast in just three movements there is a greater variety in terms of musical style than in Costa’s work. The short Introdução has the piano as its focus. This is followed by a folk-inflected Allegro vivo. The movement comes to rest after a slower (poco meno), melancholic section. The Interlúdio Romanesco, is altogether more profound and intensely nostalgic with the main burden carried by the violin. The Trio concludes with a short finale, entitled Variações sobre Syrinx inspired by Ovid's retelling of the Pan and Syrinx myth. The effect is, as the liner-note describes, a ‘three-dimensional musical soundscape which is at once modern and archaic’.
The final composer on the present CD, Sérgio Azevedo has followed in the footsteps of Lopes-Graça and Constança Capdeville. He favours works of epic scale which address time and memory. This ‘Hukvaldy’ Trio was specially written for the present players. It traces its lineage to Azevedo's Piano Quartet ‘V mhlách…1912’. The composer reports that "this itself [is] based on three cycles of short piano fragments of the same name composed in 1912 by Leoš Janáček, and uses Janáček’s fragments as a starting point." ‘Hukvaldy’ Trio takes its name from a village - the Czech composer’s birthplace - in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic which lies some 150m below the ruins of the third-largest castle in the country. The material and treatment are imbued with folksy sounds, Czech rather than Portuguese.
Cast as a twenty-minute-long single movement, the opening few seconds make use of string harmonics, before the piano enters with single, bold diatonic chords, by way of accompanying the ensuing folk-inspired melody. Moments of rhythmic agitation contrast with further single chords from the piano, before a faster, more fragmented section follows, which makes more use of the whole-tone scale and its associated harmonies. This leads to an expansive section, featuring rippling arpeggios from the piano, which permeate the passage with some passionate, Romantic expression, where the harmony is both quite traditional, and yet discordant at one and the same time. The music again becomes more fragmented and questioning, until a calm section in parallel thirds, firstly from the piano, and then joined by the strings takes over – here the harmony becomes more astringent, yet never disturbingly so. A return to a brisker, agitated tempo hints at the often folk-derived writing of Bartók, interrupted briefly by some calm interplay between strings and piano, before a new section recalls some of the rhythms and harmonies of Shostakovich heard in his own Second Piano Trio. Elements of the opening sections return, almost by way of a recapitulation, though not quite in the formal, classical sense, and producing an almost arch-like shape overall, where the elements now appear somewhat symmetrically, rather than in their opening order. A single, dying-away tremolando in the piano’s right hand has the final word in this absorbing and enigmatic work, but which owes much of its musical language to influences from Eastern Europe, rather than the sunnier climes of the composer’s homeland much further to the south.
Naxos has chosen the repertoire carefully for its debut issue of Portuguese Piano Trios, superbly played by Trio Pangea, with a recording quality to match. Costa’s Trio is immediately appealing, albeit in pan-European fashion, whereas Carneyro’s is always attractive, but clearly has more of substance to say, and does have a slight flavour of the Iberian Peninsula. Azevedo’s Trio is the most challenging work, but is ultimately probably the most rewarding too, though really benefits from more than one initial hearing. Again there is an exoticism about the writing, but as with the rest of music on this attractive CD, it’s more about composers born in Portugal, than the evolving development of indigenous Portuguese music per se.