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Trios from the City of Big Shoulders
Ernst BACON (1898-1990)
Piano Trio No 2 (1987) [31:14]
Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968)
Piano Trio, H312 (1953) [37:02]
Lincoln Trio
rec. June-July 2020, Murray and Michele Allen Recital Hall, DePaul University, Chicago
CEDILLE CDR90000203 [68:31]

I enjoyed the Lincoln Trio’s Turina twofer a number of years ago (review) and was curious as to their latest disc. This buoyant and communicative ensemble is technically highly accomplished and now turns its attention to two composers who grew up in Chicago – Bacon was born there and Sowerby arrived as a fourteen-year-old. This explains a disc title that surely only Americans will understand, as the city was a vast meat-packing centre hence, presumably, the requirement for big shoulders (or whatever).

Ernst Bacon is best known for his songs but in his long life he composed across the genres. His Trio No 2 was composed when he was a venerable 87. The multi-movement construction allows varied contrasts of moods, Bacon’s sombre, elegiac moments jutting up against a stalking March theme which then clarifies into a beautiful, space-filled second section (‘In an easy walk’). The easeful release turns abrasive before ending in a lightly jazzy mood. When grave expression is required, Bacon reaches for the cello and it’s noticeable that the American elements, largely inaudible at the start, begin to accumulate as the work develops – first a Country-style frolicsome hoe-down and then syncopated folksong. I can’t easily imagine the work, in its world premiere recording, being played with greater flair and commitment than by this trio.

Leo Sowerby’s 1953 Trio, by contrast, is in three movements, each relatively extensive in size. Its austerity, flecked by stalking piano figures, leads to more fervent, even clotted writing, returning in an arc to the opening section’s expressive melancholy. The central movement has plenty of rich sonorities, the double stops of which, suggests excellent annotator Elinor Olin, generate a kind of free organ prelude effect. Sowerby is a sophisticated manipulator of sound and form and adept at leading from gentleness to dynamically charged rhythms which are certainly audible in this trio. Strangely at a couple of points in the finale I was put in mind of Delius’ Third Violin Sonata – pure coincidence, though maybe one derived from elements of impressionism.

This is an outstandingly well performed and recorded disc in which Bacon’s tenacious individualism meets Sowerby’s splendidly organised dynamism.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

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