English Piano Trios
Rosalind ELLICOTT (1857-1924)
Piano Trio no.1 in G (not F) major (1889) [28:54]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Trio in E minor (1893) [8:48]
Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960)
Celtic Prelude "The Land of Heart’s Desire" (1921) [7:10]
James Cliffe FORRESTER (1860-1940)
Trio "Folk Song Fantasy" (1917) [13:00]
Harry Waldo WARNER (1874-1945)
Trio, op.22 (1921) [19:40]
Trio Anima Mundi
rec. 2017, The Music Auditorium, Clayton, Australia
DIVINE ART DDA25158 [77:53]
Although I have searched the Internet, I have not come up with a definitive opinion as to whether this CD presents five previously unrecorded chamber works. Normally CD companies would trumpet this fact, but no mention is made in the booklet, the track listing or the advertising blurb. My working assumption is that they are premier recordings but look forward to being proved wrong on this point.
A little problem occurs with the opening work, the beautiful Piano Trio No.1 in G major (c.1889) by Rosalind Ellicott. The track-listing on the CD cover insists that this is written in the key of F major, the imbedded information in the CD concurs. Grove’s declares that it is in G major, as does the score and the programme notes. So, G major it is. The Trio is presented in three movements with the slow ‘adagio’ conventionally placed second. The opening ‘allegro con grazia’ is a delight. Written in 6/8 time, Ellicott has taken to the crotchet-quaver melodic line, which propels this music along. The second movement, by contrast, is quite introverted: the liner notes suggest ‘funereal’. This ternary movement has a gorgeous romantic tune in A major. This, for me is the emotional highlight of the entire work. The finale is dynamic. This ‘allegro brillante’ does what is says ‘on the tin. Back in the home key, it is full of energy and vigour propelling the movement to a powerful close, with several loud reiterated G major/C major chords.
What does the work sound like? I guess that Brahms springs to mind. Mendelssohn and William Sterndale Bennett (her teacher) also lie close to the surface. But this is not fair. Rosalind Ellicott has written a minor masterpiece. It holds it own against much that went before and came after it. And I would swap many works for the elegant tune in the slow movement!
In 1891 Ellicott was to produce her Piano Trio No.2 in D minor. This has been recorded by the Summerhayes Trio on Meridian CDE84478.
The problem with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Trio in E minor is that it is too short. The entire work lasts for less than nine minutes. Additionally, I felt there was an imbalance between movements in this work. The first is longer than the other two combined. But that is not all. The powerful opening gesture seems to me to be destined for a much longer and more expansive work. Furthermore, there seems little contrast between the ‘moderato’ and the ‘allegro’ sections of this movement. The liner notes suggest that this is a little rondo, yet I felt the episodes lacked distinction. The second movement is a vivacious ‘scherzo’ lasting for less than two minutes. Again, there is little distinction between the minuet and the trio parts. The finale brings little respite to this ‘fast’ work. There is terrific energy in this ‘con furiant’ movement that just seems out of scale with such a short work. Another issue with this Trio is the lack of a slow movement as such. Even the episodes and contrasting themes in each movement fail to present anything approaching repose. On the other hand, there is much superb writing for the Trio here. Melodic material seems to tumble from the composer’s pen. Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this work and hope that as a result of this premiere recording it will gain traction with concert promoters, ensembles and listeners.
I have always wanted to hear Rutland Boughton’s Celtic Prelude: The Land of Heart’s Desire. I recall I came across the score of the work in the Royal Academy of Music Library many years ago and the title took my fancy, as well as what I could hear in my mind’s ear. The Prelude was composed in 1921, the year before Boughton began his best-known work, the opera The Immortal Hour. The liner notes suggest that it may well be a preparatory sketch for that opera. Michael Hurd in his book-length study of the composer, explains that Boughton wrote the incidental music for Yeats’s play The Land of Heart’s Desire, which was performed at Glastonbury on 24 January 1917. He later worked up this score into the present Trio. The rhapsodic formal structure would seem to be through-composed, with a plethora of tunes, fast and slow, tumbling over each other. Somehow, all these various melodies seem to be hewn from the same material. The robust opening theme is reprised near the end of the Trio, before the mood changes to a lively jig. Hurd was not over impressed with this short Prelude. He concedes that it is ‘tuneful and unpretentious’ but it is a ‘slight work – its modal melodies, episodic formal structure, and unsurprising harmonic content creating an impression that it is pleasant rather than powerful.’ I think it is these things that give the piece its sense of innocence and wonder.
I have waited many years to hear a performance of this piece: I think that the wait has been worthwhile. This is a delightful work that is full of Celtic melancholy and lively-ish dance, but never descends into Tartanry or Irishry. I hope that several piano trio ensembles will take this work up. It deserves to be popular.
I have not come across the composer James Cliffe Forrester before. Googling did not really help. Most ‘hits’ were associated with the present CD. The liner notes give the briefest of notices of his life and works. Born in 1860, (not 1960 as printed on the CD rear cover track listing) Forrester attended the National Training School (the forerunner of the Royal College of Music). After completing his studies, he held posts as organist and choirmaster at St John’s Church, West Ealing, and as music master at Princess Helena College in Hertfordshire. Remarkably, he was at this college for more than five decades. I searched the British Library Catalogue and found no references. The liner notes refer to some song settings of texts by Longfellow, Shelley and Browning. WorldCat reveals a couple of piano pieces: In Springtime and Rosalind, a minuet for piano. Which makes the situation very puzzling indeed? Based on the remarkable Trio: Folk Song Fantasy heard on this disc, he would seem to be a composer with considerable gifts. There must be some more information out there somewhere…
Turning to the Trio, we are told that is was written for the 5th Cobbett Chamber Music Competition held in 1917. The rules of this competition were that the work be around quarter of an hour, relatively easy to perform and must derive its melodic material from folksong, from the country of the composer’s birth or residence. Betsi Hodges in her admirable thesis about the Cobbett Competitions lists the winners of the 1917 competition. The trio section was won by Forrester’s Trio with the second place going to Arnold Trowell’s Trio on Ancient Irish Folk Tunes.
Forrester’s work was duly published by Novello. Walter Willson Cobbett, in his Cobbett’s Cyclopaedic Survey of Chamber Music, vol. 1, A-H, described the work as ‘a musicianly work of melodious charm.’ That’s it.
The Trio is written in the usual arch form, with the slow middle section. The programme notes identify the main theme as the Sussex folk tune ‘Rosebud in June’. This is presented in several guises with contrasting, but typically melancholy, moods. The final section utilises a brisk tune called ‘Twanky Dillo’, which is an anthem for a blacksmith. This was sourced from a volume compiled in 1791 entitled Pills to Purge Melancholy.
This splendid Trio makes an ideal entry point for someone wishing to enter the world of British Chamber music of the first half of the 20th century. There is nothing challenging here. It is not avant-garde and does not ramble as so many folk song inspired works are liable to do. Witness the irruption of the final theme in the middle of the slow section – a masterstroke. This is a moving, exciting, well-constructed and thoroughly enjoyable work. It just cries out to be in the repertoire of all Trio ensembles.
The last work on this imaginative CD is Harry Waldo Warner’s Trio for piano, violin and violoncello, op. 22. The work is dedicated to the American pianist, patron of music and socialite, Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. In fact, it won the Coolidge Prize for 1921 and was duly published by Ricordi. Apparently, there were some 64 competitors from ten nations, so it was a wide field and (presumably) a well-deserved win.
The first movement is something of a ‘fantasy.’ After an opening flourish the composer presents three discrete sections that seem melodically related to each other but presenting various moods. The second section is much lighter in tone than the surrounding music which is typically turbulent and restless. The piano part here adds so much to the success of this movement. The ‘scherzo’ is light-footed with some wonderfully will o’ the wisp piano interjections. There is much of the Orient about this music with lots of bare ‘fourth’ (e.g. C-F) chords. The ‘trio’ section is a little more romantic in tone, with a well-poised melody. There is a reference here to the first movement before the ‘scherzo’ theme brings the work to a close. This entire movement would make a wonderful encore to any recital. (However, I do not usually advocate lifting movements out of context!!) The finale is complex in design. It begins with a slow, melancholic introduction played on strings with piano interruptions articulating the main theme of the opening movement. Very soon the main theme of this ‘sonata rondo’ is presented. Here there are constant changes of metre creating a deliberate sense of instability. This is a melody that presents drama and just a hint of aggression. The ‘second subject’ or ‘episode’ is a reflective tune that brings some peace into what is typically turbulent music. The movement progresses through several twists and turns before heading for the massive ‘climactic, affirmative close.’ The entire trio is characterised by chromatic writing, especially in the piano part.
Even a superficial hearing of Waldo Warner’s Trio will explain why this work won first prize in the Coolidge Competition. Everything about this work suggests genius. It is a masterpiece (an overused word, I concede). Listening to this music makes it hard to believe that it has been ignored largely for a century. There is so many good things in this three-movement work.
The playing by the Trio Anima Mundi (a profound name, the ‘World Soul’!) is magnificent throughout. I managed to ‘follow’ three of these works (Ellicott, Boughton and Waldo Warner) with the score and was continually amazed at the brilliant interpretation of this music. Despite the drop-offs noted above, the liner notes and packaging are excellent. Divine Art, as usual, give an outstanding recorded sound to this CD. I cannot fault it.
If these are all ‘premiere performances’ this new release will give chamber music enthusiasts plenty to think about. Each one of these five ‘trios’ are special and deserve our attention. I look forward to many more releases by this ensemble, with their continuing enthusiasm for ‘musical archaeology’.
Kenji Fujimura (piano), Rochelle Ughetti (violin), Noella Yan (cello)