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An A to Z of the Piano Trio Repertoire: “C” Composers
by David Barker

Discography & Review Index: "C" Survey Index

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832, Italy/England) fits into the crossover period between accompanied sonatas and true trios. He wrote seven sets (opp. 21, 22, 27-29, 32 & 35), each with three works, that are listed in some sources as the former, and others as the latter. The two sets of recordings equally fall into the two camps: Brilliant lists them as sonatas, Dynamic as trios. Consequently, I will include them here.

Most of the sets are shown in the score as optionally replacing violin with flute, and on Brilliant Classics, the choice has been made to go with flute for opp. 21, 22 & 32. By contrast, Trio Fauré on Dynamic is firmly a violin-based ensemble. I haven’t listened to all twenty-plus trios, just sampled movements here and there. The best I can say is that they are pleasant and pretty, but little more. Pietro Spada, the pianist on the Brilliant set, is a very well-known and respected performer, and has recorded pretty much everything Clementi wrote for the piano. However, both the tinny, brittle sound of the piano – it sounds like a fortepiano but nowhere is it suggested that is the case – and his very superficial playing make this set unlistenable. Trio Fauré makes a far better case for me, giving the music some depth. I think it is reasonable to say that the works are more historically interesting than musically.

If you do decide to have a taste of these works, the two labels offer very different purchasing options. Dynamic offers four separate releases, currently only as downloads, with acceptable, if not compendious, booklets. With Brilliant Classics, you will have to commit to a 8 CD boxset of the complete sonatas for flute or violin, with almost non-existent booklet notes, to get the disc and a half containing three sets trios which include violin.

A problem encountered while sampling the Brilliant set online (and let me emphasise that I am using the word as the label identifier, not an adjective) was the unexpected appearance of Baroque orchestral works, including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, instead of the op. 32 trios. Further investigation suggested that many of the other tracks, while from the Clementi set, were in the wrong order. Exactly the same errors appeared on the Naxos Music Library, Classicsonline, Presto Classical and Spotify!  A number of months since I advised some of these sites, the errors remain.  Mind you, I don't think my comments will have induced many of you to rush out and buy it anyway.

We don’t tend to think of chamber music in connection with Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849, Poland). The extent of his writing for this genre is a few works for cello and piano, including a sonata, and one early trio (1828). There are more than twenty recordings, though I suspect this is more because of who wrote it, rather than its quality; I won’t attempt to comment on more than a few.

It is a graceful work, apparently redolent of Polish nationalism, and not given to the glorious, heartbreaking melodies and dramatic outbursts that I associate with his works for solo piano. It isn’t a work that I have listened to very often, and my colleagues have been equally reticent in reviewing the work. I can only find two brief reviews of different releases of what I suspect is the same 1950 recording by the Oistrakh Trio (Preiser ~ Deutsche Grammophon) and a passing mention in a review of Haydn trios to an “astonishing performance” of the Chopin by the Kungsbacka Trio on Naxos. Having heard the latter in the Chopin and other repertoire as well as in concert, I can only suggest that this would be a very suitable choice. The Beaux Arts Trio would also be a safe recommendation but their recording appears only to be available in large boxsets. The Johannes Moser trio on Hänssler is also very fine.

Just how many trios Carl Czerny (1791-1857, Austria) composed is not entirely clear. Given that his published works number 861, perhaps that is not surprising. What we can say definitely is that there are four trios which have been given numbers (opp. 105, 166, 173 & 289). Number 1 (op. 105) was originally written as a horn trio, and exists in the alternative version with cello replacing horn. Wikipedia lists op. 211 as Deux Trios brillan[t]s and op. 212 as Six Grand Potpourris for piano trio. There are apparently “several” unpublished trios as well as op. 104 - Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes – which are for piano with the optional accompaniment by violin and cello. Of all these, only two are currently available: No. 2, op. 166 (sometimes referred to as a Grand Trio) and No. 4, op. 289. I have heard the latter, written in the early 1830s. It is very much in the mode of the op. 1 Beethoven set, and certainly has plenty of appeal. With nothing to compare to, I have only one problem with the performance, that being the terribly harsh sound of the violin.

Alexis de Castillon (1838-1873, France) (or to give him his full name, Marie-Alexis de Castillon de Saint-Victor) was most influenced, perhaps surprisingly, by the music of Robert Schumann, given that his music was not widely known in France at the time. The first trio, written in 1866, is fairly bland, the second, finished shortly before his death, shows the positive effect of lessons from Cesar Franck. It is still very under the spell of Schumann, but has better structure and more interesting melodies (a less kind person might suggest that it actually has some melodies). This is probably only one for the collector.

Like Bruch, Ernest Chausson (1855-1899, France) wrote only a single trio, very early in his career (1881). Unlike Bruch, whose trio was very much part of his learning process and bore little resemblance to his later works, the Chausson is a precociously mature work, gloriously French and quite superb. I have seen it described dismissively as a “student” work, which is a label I cannot understand. If you love piano trios and don’t know the Chausson, you really should be making its acquaintance very soon. It is rich in melody, passionate and impassioned, with wonderful contrasts between the movements. I haven’t been able to hear all those listed below, but I don’t believe that I will have missed any really outstanding performances.

The Ravel appears to be the default coupling, with more than half the available recordings opting for it. Among these are the best recordings of the Chausson. Trio Wanderer have recorded it twice, in 1999 (Harmonia Mundi) and 2002 (K617). I haven’t heard the latter, but the former sounds oh-so-French, and they give the second movement Vité a wonderfully playful reading. For this alone, I would rank it as my top selection, a selection reinforced by the intensely impassioned slow movement. If you prefer a more restrained version, then the Beaux Arts Trio will do very nicely. If you want the Ravel as a coupling, or indeed the best Chausson you can get, I don‘t see a need to go past these two.

My colleague Michael Cookson has ranked the Pascal Rogé-led version on Onyx as his preferred version. I have to say that I found it somewhat uninvolving, but I do agree with his praise for the Trio Solisti recording. The Eskar Trio is also very good, their slow movement building up a real head of steam as it progresses.

If you want a different coupling to the Ravel, you will have to settle for a lesser performance of the Chausson. The Devoyon/Graffin/Hoffmann combination on Hyperion is probably the pick, but doesn’t quite reach great heights: the Vité comes across as a little trite, for example. William Kreindler describes the performance by the Meadowmount Trio as “exciting”, a view which I don’t share. They take at least two minutes longer than any of the other versions I have found, causing the outer movements especially to drag. The Vienna Schubert Trio provides a safe performance, which would not persuade you of the work’s quality, should theirs be the first you heard.

Francesco Cilea (1866-1950, Italy) is known mainly these days for one opera, Adriana Lecouvreur. His 1886 trio is a student work, and while no masterpiece, shows a degree of confidence and imagination.

Cecilé Chaminade (1857-1944, France) wrote two trios in the 1880s, which really deserve to be better known. Start with the slow movement of the second trio: it is breathtakingly beautiful, and anyone not moved by it is surely stony-hearted. Of the two recordings offering both trios, unfortunately the far better Trio Tzigane is not available new, because of the demise of ASV, though Amazon US still lists it as available second-hand (Presto Classical is currently releasing ASV titles, so it may be that the Chaminade trios appear soon). The readily available, though only as a download, Klingberg group has problems for me in both intonation and interpretation: they play the second Trio Lento too fast, taking away some of its languorous beauty. The two works are good enough to justify two purchases: the Rembrandt Trio are almost as good as Trio Tzigane in the first, and Trio Chausson are standouts in the second (review).

Georgy Catoire (1861-1926, Russia) is described in the booklet notes for the Hyperion recording as “unjustly neglected”, and there are definite signs of quality in these works. His trio from 1900 begins in a manner very much akin to the Arensky trios, before settling into a darker atmosphere, full of imagination and feeling. If the promise of this excellent opening movement was maintained through the rest of the work, we would have an absolute beauty on our hands, but alas it isn’t. The middle movement “scherzo” is amusingly rollicking but runs out of steam before the gentle “trio”. Some judicious editing wouldn’t have gone astray. The finale is filled with dramatic statements, but not much that one might describe as memorable Russian melodies. The accompanying quartet, from much later in his life, is more Scriabin than Arensky, and more interesting than the trio.

I enthused over the 1904 trio by René de Castéra (1873-1955, France) in my review. Full of delightful melodies and Basque dance rhythms, it is a work by an almost unknown composer that doesn’t disappoint. Intriguingly, the version that I reviewed is the original. Castéra made substantial changes a few years later and this has also been recorded. I can’t say much about the changes, but it is still a quite beautiful work. Equally appealing are the couplings.

Jean Cras (1879-1932, France) is certainly not a name that would appear on many lists when considering the music of La Belle Epoque and subsequent decades. Fortunately the French label Timpani has not forgotten him, recording much, if not all, of his output on ten CDs. His 1907 trio has but a single recording, which given its outpourings of melody, very French style and overall quality is surprising and disappointing. As perfectly satisfactory as this performance is, I would love to hear Trio Wanderer play this. There is an earlier trio which doesn’t even have one recording – it is on my Wishlist.

Charles Cadman (1881-1946, USA) was one of the first American composers to have been musically schooled in the US, rather than Europe. Whilst born on the East Coast, he was not part of the Boston set, and spent most of his life out west, where he was influenced by the songs of the native Americans. His trio, from 1913, doesn’t have any themes derived from such sources, and is a typical light Romantic work, pleasant listening without being memorable. Rob Barnett in his review of the Naxos recording describes the trio as “sentimental”. Of the two recordings, the Rawlins Trio are clearly superior in all regards, their slower tempos highlighting the gentility of the work. Nevertheless, I would imagine your choice will come down to whether you want some more Cadman chamber works, or other American trios.

The 1921 trio of Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979, Britain) was a runner-up in a competition held by the Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music, sponsored by the American patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. It is a work that rewards careful listening; the phrase “darkly lyrical” comes to mind. It doesn’t have big melodies, but is not short of dramatic gestures. It has fared surprisingly well recording-wise. For me, the Hartley Trio on Heritage is clearly the best of the bunch. It has been reviewed twice here – Rob Barnett ~ Em-Marshall-Luck – and the latter clearly disagrees with that assessment. The Storioni and Roscoe trios are probably next (with the latter very hard to obtain), but you would be not be disappointed with any of them, and safe in making your decision based on the couplings.

Gaspar Cassadó (1897-1966, Spain) was best known as a virtuoso cellist, and thus his compositions showcase the range of his instrument. Some piano trios tend to place the cello as third among equals, but here that is certainly not the case. It has a bewitching Spanishness to it, but not in any sense a kitsch or clichéd one. Of the four recordings, the Arbos and Kairos Trios are quite definitely superior, and your choice might come down to the couplings. The Arriaga Trio offers two quite unusual couplings – less Spanish, and not too modernist – with a Cassadó performance that lacks the passion and refinement of the others. The Bekova Sisters made the first recording, but it isn’t competitive.

If you approach either of the two works for piano trio by Aaron Copland (1900-1990, USA) – the well-represented Vitebsk (Study on a Jewish theme), written in 1929, and the very rare Prelude from 1924 – expecting Rodeo or Appalachian Spring, you will be disappointed. With Vitebsk, despite its numerous recordings, you are likely to be seriously disappointed as it is from the modernist side of his output. I haven’t attempted to carry out a comparison of the available recordings, but Trio Wanderer is the biggest name on the list, so that might be a place to start (review). The Prelude, an arrangement of that movement from the Organ Symphony, is rather easier on the ears, but very brief, and appears to exist on a single recording.

I was quite surprised when I checked the listings for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968, Italy) on ArkivMusic. It showed more than 200 recordings that included his music, which for a seemingly peripheral name was an impressive performance. His two piano trios, from 1928 and 1932, only contributed two to that list, with the Dynamic recording of both not present. Both works are proudly anachronistic, with their influences from Brahms and Schumann, mixed with an Italian passion and sparkle. I can’t say that I find them memorable in any way, but they are certainly enjoyable company.

I have greatly enjoyed the series of Naxos and Chandos releases of the orchestral works of Alfredo Casella (1883-1947, Italy). His chamber music hasn’t received the same recent attention. There is only one “true” purpose-written trio, from 1938, the Sonata a tre. It begins in aggressive, unattractive fashion, but Casella’s inherent lyricism slowly emerges in the strings, competing with the stomping piano. The slow movement is darkly lyrical, with a central angst-ridden return to the roughness of the first movement. The finale is the sunniest of the three. This is a work that deserves more recordings, and will, I’m sure, reveal even more of its qualities on further listening.

The only recording of this trio is on a disc with three Casella arrangements, one of his own Sicilienne and Burlesque (originally for flute and piano), the others a nocturne by Sammartini and one of the Clementi trios. In this survey I don’t intend to cover every arrangement for trio in existence, because I fear that I would never finish. I will include arrangements by the composer of his/her own work, though. The trio version has its own opus number (23b), giving further weight to its importance. It is very much a work influenced by his studies in Paris, where Fauré was one of his teachers. The original version for flute certainly has its Parisian charms, but this 1930s arrangement is equally good.

Because Clementi has already featured in this part of the survey, I thought I would comment on this version. Casella was instrumental in restoring Clementi’s reputation, completing his first symphony and publishing modern editions of some of his work. The transcribed trio is described as being “after Clementi’s op. 28/2”. This led to some confusion as this work on both the Brilliant and Dynamic recordings is in E flat major and has two movements (Largo-Presto & Allegro vivace). The Casella “transcription” is in D major, has three movements and is totally different music. A little detective work turns up op. 27/2, which is definitely the work on which the transcription is based. It seems that the numbering of Clementi’s works has changed in the last seventy years, as the IMSLP score for op. 28/2, which has quite an old cover page, is clearly the transcribed work. Without the booklet, it is not clear what changes Casella made. Without doubt, the Edison Trio is better recorded than either Trio Fauré or the Spada group, and the music itself sounds more interesting, but not especially different. This and the Sammartini are certainly not the reason why you would consider buying this CD.

The trio of Julius Chajes (1910-1985, USA) has been recorded but may or may not be unavailable. However, some kind soul probably broke copyright by uploading it to Youtube, allowing a listen. It is a brief, gentle and engaging work that doesn’t deserve to have been deleted.

Gayane Chebotarian (1918-1998, Armenia) was mentored by Khachaturian and this 1945 trio begins and ends with dances that her teacher would have enjoyed. They flank a dark and lovely slow passage, shot through with what I imagine are Armenian folk influences. In just eight minutes, the listener is taken on quite a journey.  It has garnered three recordings - I haven't heard the Etcetera one - but the other two are very enjoyable.

Henry Cowell (1897-1965, USA) is frequently labelled as an original, and certainly this 1965 Trio in Nine Short Movements has a structure that is original. Cowell’s output varied between avant-garde and the relatively conservative: I couldn’t describe this as particular riveting, but it is towards the conservative end of the spectrum.

The trio by Paul Creston (1906-1985, USA) was written late in his life – 1979 – a commission by the Mirecourt Trio, whose recording remains the only one. It comes more than two decades after the last of his five fine symphonies, and I’m afraid, suggests a fading of his powers. His music is always conservative, not at all modernist, but this trio seems to lack much in the way of inspiration.

The Parameta (?) trio of John Craig Cooper (1925-, USA) has the same heritage as the Creston: commissioning by the Mirecourt and recording on Music and Arts. I did enjoy it more in its simplicity, though the high, harsh violin did bother me. The question mark next to the name of the work is because it is spelt that way on the Music & Arts site (and presumably the CD) but as ‘Paramita’ on the composer’s webpage.

James Cohn (1928-, USA) has written two trios, in 1988 and 2003. His music is tonal, frequently employs dance rhythms and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Appropriately Tunes From My Home by Chen Yi (b. 1953, China) is very Chinese, or at least that's how it seems to me based on my admittedly limited exposure to traditional Chinese music.  It is mostly high-pitched, and with melodies that are quite foreign to Western ears.  I can't say that it engaged my affections at all.

N is the rather enigmatic title of a tango for piano trio written by Emilio Colon (1967-, USA). It is a fine work, and the composer, who is a professional cellist should write more.

Michael Colina (1948-, USA) was commissioned to write a piece for the thirtieth anniversary in 2008 of the New Arts Trio, of whom I have made some uncomplimentary comments elsewhere in this survey. Idoru is inspired by the writings of the science fiction author William Burroughs and has some interesting moments, though I can't summon much enthusiasm for the final movement.

David Conte (b. 1955, USA) has the distinction of being one of the last students of the great Nadia Boulanger. His 2011 trio is intense, shot through with tangy dissonances, but with a melodic bedrock.  The two other chamber works that accompany it are equally impressive.

Included in discography only
- Frank Campo (1927-, USA)
- Alberto Caprioli (1956-, Italy)
- John Carollo (1954-, USA)
- Patrick Carrabré (1958-, Canada)
- Benet Casablancas (1956-, Spain)
- Paul Chihara (1938-, USA)
- James Clarke (1957-, Britain)
- Frank Corcoran (1944-, Ireland)
- Ramiro Cortés (1933-1984, USA)
- Eleanor Cory (1943-, USA)
- Brian Current (1972-, Canada)

Ruperto Chapí, in D major (1877)
Camille Chevillard, op. 3 (1884)
Frederick Converse, in E minor (1932)
Frederic Cowen, Trios 1 in A major & 2 in A minor
Jean Cras – Voyage symbolique (1899)
Carl Czerny – remaining unrecorded trios

The following recordings were obtained for this survey as downloads from eClassical and Hyperion:
Catoire - Hyperion
Chaminade (Trio Chausson) - eClassical
Chausson (Trio Wanderer) - eClassical
Chausson (Devoyon) - Hyperion

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