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Trios From the City of Big Shoulders
Ernst BACON (1898-1990)
Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano (1987) [31:15]
Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968)
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (H312) (1953) [37:02]
Lincoln Trio
rec. 2020, Murray and Michele Allen Recital Hall, DePaul University, Chicago
Premiere recording (Bacon)
CEDILLE CDR90000203 [68:31]

This is the fourth album the GRAMMY nominated and Chicago based Lincoln Trio have recorded for the Cedille Record label. The performers who make up the Trio are Desirée Ruhstrat (violin), David Cunliffe (cello) and Marta Aznavoorian (piano). Founded in 2003, their mission is “to champion new and lesser-known works”. Formed in Chicago “we decided to see what we could discover in our own backyard”. So, what we have are two Chicago-based composers, both contemporaries, neither of whom I've heard of before. So, from the outset, this is for me a voyage of discovery.

The composer and pianist Ernst Bacon was born in Chicago on May 26, 1898. His teachers included Karl Weigl and Ernest Bloch for composition and Eugene Goossens for conducting.
As a composer, his aim was to express the spirit of America in music. His country’s history, folklore and indigenous music fascinated him, and these profoundly influenced his compositions, as did the poetry, folk songs, jazz rhythms and landscapes of his native land. He was fairly prolific, with over 250 songs, and a Second Symphony which won a Pulitzer award in 1932. He lived to the grand old age of 91. As for his music, none other than Virgil Thomson wrote of it in 1946 as being "full of melody and variety; honest and skilful and beautiful".

He composed his Trio No. 2 when he was in his late eighties, and cast it in six movements. The opening movement is structured in two parts. The first evokes a dreamy atmosphere of contemplation, conversational in character, with dissonance embroidered into the fabric. Part two is a ‘Deliberate’ march where you can hear sturdy conviction in each strut. The second movement accompanies the listener on ‘an easy walk’, realized with pizzicatos and dotted rhythms. Then we arrive at the emotional heart of the work, an expressive ‘nocturne’, where the cello intones a soulful melody, one of wistful longing. In total contrast, the Allegro which follows is a jazzy hoe-down with foot-tapping syncopations. A brief Commodo of an airy diaphanous texture precedes an animated finale with strong rhythmic pulses and soused with folk elements. It builds up to a potent climax in the closing measures. This is a World Premiere Recording.

Leo Sowerby was born on May 1, 1895 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and began composing aged only ten. Four years later he came to Chicago, where he studied composition with Arthur Olaf Andersen at the American Conservatory of Music. He himself joined the faulty there in 1924. In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at the city’s St James’s Episcopal Church. He was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1946 for his cantata the Canticle of the Sun, written two years earlier. In 1962, after his retirement from St James's, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968. His compositional oeuvre consists of over 500 works in every genre except opera and ballet.

Sowerby’s Trio is a much more ambitious affair, a three-movement imposing structure. The first movement is titled ‘Slow and Solemn’. Bitonality, counterpoint and variation are all thrown into the mix. Throughout there’s an ominous sense of portent and doom, unsettling at times. A fugal dialogue which comes to the fore about three quarters in ratchets up the intensity into something bordering on frenzy at one point. The ‘Quiet and serene’ second movement provides some much needed balm to soothe the senses. Muted double stops on the strings add some static calm, with the cello offering some nostalgic reminiscences. The third movement, ‘Fast, with a broad sweep’ harnesses a moto perpetuo rhythm at the start which drives the music along with urgency and persistence.

This is a thoroughly absorbing disc which will appeal to those with a sense of adventure. The Lincoln Trio’s confident and exhilarating music-making speaks eloquently for itself. They’ve been beautifully recorded.

Stephen Greenbank

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