Johann Peter PIXIS (1788-1874)
Grand Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat major, Op.75 [28:38]
Piano Trio No. 3 in B minor, Op.95 [25:05]
Trio Concertante No. 1 [11:10]
Leonore Piano Trio
rec. 2016, All Saints Church, East Finchley, UK
HYPERION CDA68207 [64:54]
I first came across Johann Peter Pixis as a student in the early 1970s, when I bought a Vox Turnabout LP of his Concerto for Piano, Violin and String Orchestra in F sharp minor. The music is from a slightly earlier period than usually attracts my attention, but I rapidly came to consider the slow movement to be absolutely delightful. Since the advent of CD, I have looked for a new recording of the concerto, or a reissue of the Vox. Alas, it has never appeared, and it seems that issues which may relate to access to the score could be getting in the way. The matter is discussed on the Unsung Composers Web site where it is claimed that it was an orchestration of the 6th Piano Trio.
Pixis is one of those composers whom one encounters when reading biographies of others, in my case “The Great Pianists” by Harold C. Schonberg. Therein, Schonberg relates a mildly salacious episode, in which we are led to believe that Pixis, the unfortunate owner of a long red nose, suspected Chopin of inappropriate behaviour when he found his fiancé, aged 16 (!) alone with Chopin, who was visiting the middle-aged Pixis. Of German origin, born in Mannheim in 1788, he lived in Paris from 1825 to 1845 where he became greatly respected. The fact that Liszt, no less, asked him to compose part of the Hexameron, shows that he must have been a pianist of rare powers.
I must say that the pen-and-ink portrait of Pixis reproduced in the booklet show a slim man in his fifties, with no sign of a long nose; but drawings can lie.
I have listened to some of the small clutch of recordings of other pieces by him, in the hope that the above-mentioned concerto slow movement was not a one-off. Pixis could write entertaining, melodious stuff, and yet to my ears nothing on this disc approaches it for sheer beauty. When pushed away from the languorous (and languor rarely features in these works), the piano writing becomes chatteringly brilliant, rather like Hummel’s. Of course, others may describe this as compositional exuberance, and that is a fair point, but the first piano trio was dedicated to the aforementioned Johann Nepomuk.
Sometimes Pixis surprises: the andante movement of the E-flat trio is a rhythmic march whose effectiveness is supported by variously developed dotted rhythms, and the alla Mauresque final movement is an early 19th century idea of what Moorish dance music was like. It is very charming.
The booklet asserts that a two-bar figure in the first movement is the same as the accompaniment to the song “Slow Train” by Flanders and Swann. Having listened to a YouTube version of the song, I have to agree, but I must be of a generation that did not listen to Flanders and Swan, because I would never have known of the match. What I did notice is something that is not mentioned in the admirable notes; a repeated phrase in the andante is the same as the tune that accompanies the words “for the love of a lady”, from “I have a song to sing, O!” from Yeomen of the Guard.
It is a little irritating when one notices something like this, because from now on, whenever I hear this slow movement, Sullivan’s music and Gilbert’s words will spring to my mind, and will become immovable, at least for the duration of the slow movement if not longer. Having said that, Pixis’s melodic fecundity is such that Schubert is brought to mind here.
The Third Piano Trio is in B minor, but this hardly signifies music that is not cheerful. The andante movement is an alla marcia, where Pixis once again shows his melodic abilities. He really could pull tunes from a hat, and I wonder at the neglect of these works; they deserve to be played, and played often.
The final work on this CD is the eleven-minute Trio Concertante No. 1, based on themes from Le Colporteur, an opera by George Onslow, and stated to have been written in conjunction with “les frères Bohrer”. They were a violin and cello duo who toured Europe in the early 19th century. The input of the brothers can be heard here, as the prominence given to the strings is more evident than in the two trios. The work is a piece of fluff, pure entertainment for a Parisian salon.
To summarise, this is an excellent CD, produced to the usual high standard that we expect from Hyperion. The recording itself presents the The Leonore Piano Trio in a natural acoustic, and they are nicely balanced in relation to each other so that we can hear their fine playing to best advantage.
Previous review: David Barker