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Diego SCHISSI (b.1969)
Nene (2015) [16:01]
David S. LEFKOWITZ (b?)
Ruminations (2015) [11:42]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Korppoo Trio in D major (JS 209) (1887) [26:22]
Hafträsk Trio in A minor (JS 207) (1886) [19:34]
Lovisa Trio in C major (JS 208) (1888) [13:21]
Lotta WENNÄKOSKI (b.1970)
Päärme (2015) [11:12]
Kaija SAARIAHO (b.1952)
Je sens un deuxième coeur (2003) [17:15]
Sibelius Piano Trio (Petteri Iivonen (violin); Samuli Peltonen (cello); Juho Pohjonen (piano))
rec. March 2016, Samueli Theater, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, California
YARLUNG RECORDS YAR52638 [54:08 + 61:25]

Although the Sibelius Piano Trio has, for several years, toured extensively throughout Europe to great critical acclaim, this is their debut album. Not only does it mark a milestone in these young artists' careers, but the release is also timed to coincide with the centenary celebrations of Finland gaining its independence in 2017. As well as choosing an adventurous programme of contemporary scores, a Finnish celebration wouldn’t be complete without the music of Jean Sibelius, their namesake. They have chosen three early piano trios, none of which I’ve ever heard before. The Korppoo Trio in D major remains unpublished to this day, and the Sibelius Foundation who house the manuscript rarely grant permission for performance and recordings of it. We are privileged to be able to hear it on this recording, played from the original manuscript.

Both Nene and Ruminations were commissioned specially for the Sibelius Piano Trio, who premiered them earlier this year. They proved popular with the audience. Nene was composed by the Argentinean pianist/composer Diego Schissi. Born in Buenos Aires in 1969, he gravitated early on towards jazz. After initial musical studies at the Conservatorio Nacional López Buchardo, he moved to the States to study jazz performance at the University of Miami. Nene is a work in which dance rhythms play an integral role. The music is bathed in sunlight. It’s cast in four movements:

1. Jumping on the walls
2. Dozing on a hanger
3. Riding a mosquito
4. Oozing away

Sprightly, buoyant rhythms underpin movements 1, 3 and 4. In No. 2 peace and tranquillity reign, the players achieving some luminous sonorities, which add to the allure. No. 4 begins forcefully and resolute, but this soon evaporates as the music oozes away.

Ruminations, by Los Angeles composer David S. Lefkowitz, provides something of a contrast to the sunny, affable disposition of Nene. As the title implies, it is deeply thoughtful and brooding, almost doleful. I have to admit, I’m very taken with this attractive score, for its originality and imaginative content. It positively exudes a Persian flavour with the evocation of the oud, nose flute and Eastern European Klezmer. Glissandi, pizzicati and harmonics are just some of the instrumentalist’s arsenal that are called upon. It’s free improvisatory style is suggestive of music evolving and being created on the wing.

Wennäkoski’s Päärme, which apparently means ‘Hem’, was a commission by the Kimito Island Music Festival of Finland for the Sibelius Piano Trio, who premiered it in 2015. The booklet describes it as a ‘romp’. A declamatory piano chord sets off proceedings, and its percussive and angular demeanour is achieved by a variety of effects including the players digitally tapping the wood of their instruments. The composer conjures up some unusual exotic sonorities. Ostinato rhythms underpin the narrative. The romp gathers pace and builds up to a climax, then the music becomes almost motionless, leaving the listener wandering in an isolated landscape. Towards the end, the music once again gains momentum and the work ends vigorously.

The earliest of the contemporary works is Kaija Saariaho’s Je sens un deuxième Coeur, written in 2003 at the same time as her opera Adriana Mater, from which Saariaho takes her title. She’d originally intended to depict the four characters of the opera, but then abandoned the idea. The trio has previously seen recordings on the Ondine (review) and Harmonia Mundi labels. It’s cast in five movements:

I. I reveal my skin (Je dévoile ma peu)
II. Open up, fast (Ouvre-moi, vite)
III. In the dream, she waited (Dans le rêve, elle l'attendait)
IV. I must come in (Il faut que j'entre)
V. I feel a second heart beating close to mine (Je sens un deuxième coeur qui bat tout près du mien)

It tells the tale of a pregnant woman who is attacked and survives. Movements 2 and 4 depict personal violence, which the composer has described as ‘two studies in instrumental energy’. Movement 1 is angst-ridden and gripping, 3 is otherworldly and unsettled, and 5 is more serene and peaceful, yet seems to offer little comfort.

The three trios by Sibelius are youthful works (review), penned during the summer vacations he spent with his family in Houtskär, an island located in the Archipelago Sea in the province of Western Finland. He named two of the trios after two of the islands - Korppoo and Hafträsk, and the other after the coastal town of Lovisa. They were written primarily for himself and his siblings to perform. The earliest is the Hafträsk Trio of 1886. It has a striking slow movement, generous on lyricism, and a scherzo which gives more than a passing nod to Mendelssohn. An attractive dance-like Rondo ends the work. A year later came the Korppoo Trio and, at 26 minutes, is on a much larger scale than the other two. The outer movements are good-humoured, book-ending an improvisatory Fantasia, with frequent tempo changes. In the opening movement I could hear hints of Dvořák. The Lovisa Trio of 1888 is the best known of the three and the most frequently performed. It’s the embodiment of youthful optimism, and contains its fair share of ardour and conviviality. The Andante is quite dreamy, and the finale passionate.

The Sibelius Piano Trio deliver deeply committed performances, and their persuasive advocacy of these chamber works is compelling. Ensemble is faultless; they’ve obviously lived with these works for a while. The sound has a vivid presence, enhanced by the warmth and intimacy of the Samueli Theater. Balance between all three instrumentalists is as it should be. This is an impressive recording debut by any standards.

The recording is released under the sponsorship of executive producer Ann Mulally and Randy and Linda Bellous.

Stephen Greenbank



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