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An A to Z of the Piano Trio Repertoire: "D" Composers
by David Barker

Discography & Review Index
Dvorak ~~ Other D composers
Survey Index

Jan Dussek (1760-1812, Bohemia) is another from the period where the piano trio form was still evolving from the trio sonata. The recording by Trio 1790 – on authentic instruments including fortepiano – is titled “Piano Trios” but all discussion in the booklet, including the contents list, refers to Sonatas for piano with violin and cello. They are unchallenging, some based around Scottish folk tunes, which were all the rage at the time.

More from Trio 1790: four trios by a composer I’d not heard of - Johann Denninger (1743-1813, Germany) - and with their usual period instruments. The works are prettily superficial in the usual way of many composers of the times. Our reviewer certainly enjoyed them (review).

I suspect you would win plenty of bets in a “name the composer” competition by playing either of the two brief trio movements written by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848, Italy). Each is only 4-5 minutes in duration, and written in his late teens or early twenties. At best, they could be described as part of the learning process.

I have enjoyed some music by Ignacy Dobrzynski (1807-1867, Poland) but have not heard his 1831 trio, so I can only go by the very positive comments in our review. It is described as Schubertian, and despite its 45 minute length, is capable of holding the listener’s attention throughout.

Félicien David (1810-1876, France) wrote three trios, all in 1857, each of which has managed a single recording. He is not the F David, to whom Mendelssohn dedicated his violin concerto: that was Ferdinand, no relation. While Mendelssohn, born in the previous year, might seem an obvious parallel, it is the trios of Camille Saint-Saëns, among well-known composers, which are most akin to those of David. That Saint-Saëns was born 25 years later says something about the quality of the three David trios. The First gets star treatment, with the illustrious cellist Christophe Coin from Quatuor Mosaiques, who also feature on the recording. Christophe Coin is usually associated with authentic instrument performances, and certainly that of the First trio does sound lighter, the strings vibrato-free, but it is not a fortepiano that is employed. What isn’t star quality on this recording is the very pronounced breathing from one of the players: it is fairly continuous and quite distracting at times. The Marco Polo performers are not, however, put into the shade in their performances of the other two trios. Each trio is overflowing with melody and rhythmic interest, and really deserve to be better known, and more often recorded. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Albert Dietrich (1829-1908, Germany) was the third, and rather overshadowed, composer with Brahms and Schumann of the “F-A-E” violin sonata. His two trios from 1855 & 1863 owe much to his two colleagues, but have substantial qualities of their own. I had not heard either of them before this survey, and I have to say that I was very impressed. They may not have the glorious melodies and drama of the Brahms trios – that’s too much to expect – but, like the David trios, they are certainly deserving of more attention. For works written fairly close together, they are very different in mood. The First is intense and passionate, the Second is significantly lighter and more nostalgic. Both recordings are eminently satisfactory, but the Dynamic is the obvious one to go for, as you get both works.

Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904, Bohemia) wrote six piano trios, but the first two from the early 1870s were destroyed by the composer himself, who considered them to be unworthy. The remaining four were written in 1875, 1876, 1883 and 1891, respectively. As with so much of the composer’s output, the early works – 1 & 2 – pale in comparison with the latter two. That’s not to say that they are insignificant or of limited interest, but like the symphonies and string quartets, the difference in quality and originality is substantial. The First is sunny, with a sweet Adagio, but the scherzo is very thin, almost to the point of triteness, and the final movement begins well but tails off. The Second is an improvement. It was written following the death of his two-day old daughter, but is not a work steeped in deep tragedy, more a nostalgic sadness. Again the final movement loses inspiration. The Third, written again in the wake of tragedy, this time his mother’s death, is passionate and intense, and clearly an advance from its predecessor. The Fourth – the ‘Dumky’ – is his best-known and most recorded; it is unusual in structure, being in six movements, each centred around a dumka (lament) contrasting with lighter, faster elements. It was one of the last works written before he sailed to America. Given the quality of the works written after this time, it is to be regretted that he chose not to revisit the trio genre during his stay in the New World.

As far as recordings go, if you want all four by the same ensemble, then you have plenty of options. The Beaux Arts Trio are a safe recommendation here, and their Philip Duo set is still readily available. They do play with their characteristic detachment, which you either like or don’t. You will pay more for the two separate discs of the Florestan trio on Hyperion, but they are very good, especially in the Third and Fourth. The Gould Trio on Champs Hill was well regarded by our reviewer, though he is clearly keener on the first two trios than I am (review). Both volumes of the Vienna Piano Trio have been well received (Trios 1 & 3 ~~ Trios 2 & 4). The French Dumky Trio on Etcetera are described as “showing a certain neo-classical restraint” which was not entirely to the liking of the reviewer, despite the quality of the ensemble playing (review). I’m not a great fan of the Borodin Trio: everything they play is slower than the average. Here they take at least 5 minutes more in each work than the Florestans and the Beaux Arts. In the first two trios, it drags them out beyond their breaking point. Trio Fontenay, recorded in the 1980s, when they were quite young, didn’t convince me, though Terry Barfoot praised them (review). Jonathan Woolf thought the Macquarie Trio “well-drilled” and “thoughtful”, but felt they missed the necessary rhythms of the works (review). The two famous Czech trios – Suk and Guarneri – have their proponents among our reviewers. I don’t have access to the former, and while I certainly enjoyed the latter through Spotify, it’s only available to purchase in a large Supraphon set or an expensive Praga one. I wasn’t sufficiently impressed by samples of the Trio di Parma (Concerto) and Cohen Trio (CRD) to listen further.

There are far too many individual releases for me to listen to or comment upon. I will restrict myself to summarising some of our reviewers’ thoughts, and some of my own. Reviews on this site of the First Trio are mostly restricted to sets (see above); the Artemiss Trio on Arco Diva is an exception, but isn’t recommended (review). The Smetana Trio’s performance of the Second Trio (Supraphon) is, however, very highly praised: “difficult to imagine a finer, fresher, more youthful account”, and the Tchaikovsky discmate isn’t too bad either. (review)

Trios 3 & 4 are a common and obvious coupling, given their quality, connection and that they do a good job of mostly filling a single disc. I have already mentioned the Florestan Trio – if you want just these trios, theirs is very hard to go past. A new release by Trio Solisti on Bridge greatly impressed Brian Reinhart (review). It is a quite driven view of these two works – they are probably the quickest of recordings that I have seen – and the hard edges may not to be everyone’s taste. Brian reviewed the Tempest Trio on Naxos (review) not long after the Solistis, and found them good but not competitive. I reviewed Canadian trio Triple Forte, who certainly provide a contrast to Trio Solisti. There is a evident kinship in approach to the Florestan Trio. They emphasise the grace and elegance, possibly overdoing it a little in the final movement of Trio 3, which is not particularly “con brio”. Their Dumky is very fine. The Rosamunde Trio drew mixed feelings from our review (review), as did the group led by pianist Wu Han (review).

The high-profile group featuring acclaimed solo violinist Isabelle Faust have taken a different approach. Rather than couple Trios 3 & 4 on the one disc, they have accompanied then with a Dvořák concerto. In each case, the results are spectacular. I reviewed the Dumky/cello concerto release, and concluded that the trio was unlikely to be bettered, with the bonus of a brilliant reading of the cello concerto (review). The Third is perhaps not quite so fine, a little too wild for my liking, but there is no denying the quality of the playing (review). It is perhaps significant that the group has moved onto the Schumann trios and concertos, and in doing so, have missed out the Dvořák piano concerto and the first two trios. Does that imply that they felt these trios were not really worth their time?

To complete the overview of the Third Trio: the Czech Trio gained high praise for the programming (Suk & Martinu) as well as the performances - “lovely” (review), while I was impressed by the Sitkovetsky Trio's performance, though also aware of how much they improved after this first recording.

Our reviewer adored the Benaud Trio’s performance of the Dumky, considering it possible the best he’d heard (review). Along with a very fine performance of the Smetana trio, it has a very surprising disc filler: an arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Make of that what you will! Also well-regarded by our reviewers were the Ceske (review), Max Brod (review) and Smetana Trios (review). I wasn’t entirely happy with the Daroch Trio’s version, feeling that it was lacking the contrast essential for this work (review).

The trio by Claude Debussy (1862-1918, France), written in 1880, is not considered to be one of his better works, indeed not a work where his mature voice is heard. This is understandable, given he was still a teenager when he wrote it, staying at the time in Italy with Tchaikovsky’s patron, Nadezhda von Meck. The score was lost for more than a century, and was received rather sniffily by critics when performed again, one describing it as “verging on the salon”. It may not sound like the mature Debussy, but to consign it to the salon is harsh. Admittedly, the opening movement is not as strong as the other three, but I have no doubts that the work would been better received had it written by a lesser-known composer.

Despite these critical reservations, the work has garnered more than twenty recordings since its unearthing in the 1980s. In quite a few of these, it is coupled with the Ravel, which certainly doesn’t do the Debussy any favours. Nevertheless, my recommendation as to the best recording is one those Ravel couplings: the Florestan Trio recording was selected for inclusion in Hyperion’s 30th anniversary celebration as one of its 30 best releases. Their performance, while treating the work seriously, does not try to make more of it than there is. I quite liked the robust approach taken by the young Polish Daroch Trio (review) but wasn’t enthused by the very drawn out over-serious performance by Trio Chausson (review). The other standout is that by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and members of the Brodsky Quartet (review), but it should be noted that each of the recordings reviewed on these pages has been given a good reception (with the exception of the aforementioned Trio Chausson).

The 1898 trio of Henri Dallier (1849-1934, France) was described by our reviewer as "Franckian" and also likened it to Rachmaninov and early Fauré.  While it is no longer available through the link on the review page, it is as a download through CDBaby (mp3 and lossless).

The main claim to “fame” of Théodore Dubois (1837-1924, France) was that he was the Director of the Paris Conservatoire who was blamed for Maurice Ravel’s fifth failed to win the Prix de Rome. He had actually already resigned his post before the decision was announced, but that didn’t stop the protests being directed at him. There are two full-scale trios and three miniatures, written late in his life after the turn of the century. Given when they were written, they are very conservative, the 1922 Canon bordering on anachronistic. They are pleasant but in no way profound. Since the five works fit conveniently onto the one disc, it is surprising that the Hochelaga is the only complete recording.

Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946, Britain) was a member of the famous tobacco family. His single movement Trio in C is beautifully crafted and wistfully melodic in the best traditions of the English pastoral school. It is presumed to be a discarded single movement form a work that was abandoned. According to the booklet, even Dunhill’s usually detailed diary makes no mention of it. There is also a Phantasie Trio in E flat, but it is for piano, violin and viola, so not further considered here.

I imagine that Lucien Durosoir (1878-1955, France) is an unfamiliar name to many of you, as he was to me, but not to Musicweb International. The French label Alpha has released four CDs of his chamber music, and the one containing his single piano trio was reviewed here in 2011. It is a unusual work, where each movement begins and ends in beautiful calm lyricism reminiscent of Ravel’s great work, but in between are episodes of violent and ugly dissonance. It is not hard to see a connection between this and Durosoir’s war experiences at Verdun, which resulted in post-traumatic stress that never left him, and caused him to withdraw from society. Such is the beauty of the outer sections that the ugly parts can be tolerated.

I haven't been able to listen to the dance suite Concert intimes by Claude Duboscq (1897-1938, France), but our reviewer certainly enjoyed it.

I admire the symphonies of David Diamond (1915-2005, USA), but I can’t say the same for his 1951 trio, which is dull and unattractive. It has a recording by the Beaux Arts Trio no less, but it is only available as a full-price download in less than flattering sound, and without any couplings. I haven’t been able to track down the other two recordings, which are more interesting by virtue of their couplings.

I have only been able to hear 30 second samples of the 1999 trio A child’s reliquary by Richard Danielpour (1956-, USA) but based on this and other works of his, notably the orchestrated version as a double concerto for violin and cello, I expect it to be very listenable, melodic and given that it is a reaction to the death of an 18-month old child, very brooding in places. There is also a more recent trio, The faces of Guernica, which is as yet unrecorded.

Tina Davidson (1952-, USA) contributed two original works – Behold The Virgin Approaching and Let There Be Joy – and arrangements for trio of some classics to a collection of Christmas carols, new and old. The new works are melodic and simple, as is appropriate for the purpose. More modern, but not aggressively so, is I Hear the Mermaids Singing.

Vernon Duke (also Vladimir Dukelsky, 1903-1969, Russia/USA) was better known as a songwriter for the great names of American popular music, prior to rock and roll. He did write a deal of classical works, including three symphonies. His Tema con variazioni is dominated by the piano, unsurprisingly, and is written in a style akin to Prokofiev or mid-spectrum Stravinsky. I can’t say it thrilled me, but nor have I allocated it to the “modernist” category.

Jérôme Ducros (1974-, France) is better known as a pianist with solo recordings of Schubert, as well as accompanying such singers as Dawn Upshaw and Philippe Jaroussky. He has written a very substantial trio (well in excess of forty minutes) that is very much a throwback to the era of the French fin de siècle. I’m not entirely convinced that there is quite enough musical content to support its size, especially the first movement, but there is charm, virtuosity and melody in plentiful supply. The more I listened to it (through Spotify) the more impressed I became.

Included in discography only
- Justin Dello Joio: The March of Folly
- Edison Denisov: Trio
- Bernd Deutsch: Curriculum Vitae
- Emma Diemer: Trio
- Tamar Diesendruck: On that day
- Johanna Doderer: Trios 1-4
- Stephen Dodgson: Trios 1-3

Charles Dancla: Trios 1-4
Otto Dresel
Vladimir Dyck: op. 25 (1910)

The following recordings were obtained for this survey as downloads from eClassical and Hyperion:
David - eclassical
Dvorak (Florestan) - Hyperion Trios 1 & 2 ~~ Trios 3 & 4
Dvorak (Triple Forte) - eclassical
Dvorak (Faust) - eclassical 


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