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ARTICLE Plain text for smartphones & printers

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

Discography & Review Index: "E" Survey Index

The Lotus Eaters (2010) by Colin Eatock (1958-, Canada) is nine minutes of wistfulness and yearning, its lyricism making me think that it would have served well as the slow movement of a full trio.

The trio of Petr Eben (1929-2007, Czech) has the distinction of being the most modern of the works recorded by the Florestan Trio. Give the rest of their recorded legacy, it is a somewhat surprising inclusion. Both our reviewers suggested some degree of Shostakovichian influence, but I couldn’t hear it. Indeed, I couldn’t hear much at all that enthused me, but the reviewers of the Hyperion and Arcodiva recordings were far more positive, so I will leave you in their capable hands.

Anton Eberl (1765-1807, Austria)
was a student of Mozart, and highly regarded in his lifetime: a contemporary critic described one of his symphonies as being fit to stand alongside those of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven! Four trios for the combination covered here have survived, the op. 8 set of three have been recorded, the other, in C major, has not. The samples I have heard were full of interest, suggesting that the critic’s praise was not entirely hyperbole. Both recordings use fortepianos, but they are at least relatively warm-sounding.

With the death of Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards (1943-, Australia) perhaps assumes the mantle of senior statesman among Australian composers. His single trio, written for the 1999 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, is a quite beautiful work. The first movement is calm and wistful, with some folk-like elements, while the middle movement is hauntingly sad. The final movement provides the work with energy, using a maninya dance, which Edwards has used in other works. It truly deserves to be better known. Of the four recordings, all by antipodean ensembles, it is easiest to pick the poorest: the Australian Trio strip all life from the first two movements. The other three all have their merits, and you may be swayed by the couplings or availability. For me, the Apollo Trio offers the most attractive options, but it is only available for download, which will deter some.

Our reviewer described the 1940 trio of Klaus Egge (1906-1979, Norway) as “fabulous”. Having just listened to it for the first time, I can’t disagree. It has hints of Shostakovich and Ravel, but clearly has its own voice. It is an invigorating work, a perfect blend of lyricism and spiky rhythms. The two performances – I haven’t heard the Lawo – are apparently equally good, so it will be a matter of the couplings: more Egge or other more modern Norwegian trios.

The chamber music of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934, England) is overshadowed by his orchestral and choral masterpieces. He didn’t write a complete trio; instead what has been recorded by Champs Hill and Dutton, and called Three Movements for Piano Trio, are separate fragments, reconstructed and completed by Paul Rooke for the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The Lento-Allegro appears to have been an early work (1886) that he revisited later (1920). The Minuet and Trio is from 1882, written for a private performance with friends, while the March is a rearrangement of the 1924 Empire March, written for the celebrations to mark the opening of Wembley Stadium. I think it is safe to say that these three works are for Elgar completists, and the choice between recordings would depend on whether you want his fine quintet and songs (Champs Hill) or an early work by Frank Bridge and an intriguing quintet by the otherwise unknown Adela Maddison.

Little has survived of the works by Rosalind Ellicott (1857-1924, England), a great shame if this fine trio, written in 1891, is any measure of their quality. It is a four movement work, over thirty minutes in duration, with plenty of melodic interest and contrast in emotions. It is to be hoped that the First Trio still exists.

George Enescu (1881-1955, Romania) wrote two full-scale trios, as well as a serenade for the combination. He was renowned as a child prodigy, and his first trio was written aged 16. It is certainly an assured work, written during his studies in Paris, but before that influence became strong, Schumann being a more obvious model. It is sunnier than the later works, and with greater contrast (see below). The Sérénade lointaine is delicious, but just a miniature. The mature A minor trio (1916) is very French, demonstrating the fruits of his composition classes with Fauré. It does seem to overdo the Gallic languor, lacking any real fast tempos: even the concluding Vivace amabile emphasises the amiable side, rather than the vivacious. Of the three recordings of the A minor, I prefer that by Trio Enescu, who impart more drama, which I believe is important given the limited tempo range. They give us a quite excellent Fauré trio, but at 45 minutes run time, it is very surprising that they chose to omit the G minor. Our reviewer of the Chandos recording was more impressed by it than I was; for me, it took the French aspect too far. I am still in the “yet to be entirely convinced” category with Enescu, and his three trios haven’t really changed that. While the early G minor trio is undoubtedly not the mature Enescu, I actually prefer it to the A minor.

Einar Englund (1916-1991, Finland) wrote a single trio, late in his working life (1982). It is a dark and moody piece, exhibiting some kinship to Shostakovich in the scherzo-like Allegretto and intense Adagio, though without the biting sardonicism.

The early works of Iván Eröd (1936-, Hungary) were twelve-tone and serialist. Had he continued in this vein, the recording of his first trio – from 1976, his second from 1982 is unrecorded – would have been simply listed with the “Modernists" at the end of this article. However, at the end of the 1960s, he moved to a more tonal style. The First trio is a very fine work, with a really catchy finale that has distinct Eastern European folk elements, mixed with a hint of jazz, and that which could well have been labelled furiant.

Not included in this survey
- Heimo Erbse (1924-2005, Germany)
- Gabriel Erkoreka (1969-, Spain)
- Dietrich Erdmann (1917-, Germany)
- Thierry Escaich (1965-, France)

Rosalind Ellicott: Trio No. 1 (1891)
Iván Eröd: Trio 2, op. 42 (1982)

The following recordings were obtained for this survey as downloads from eClassical and Hyperion:
Eben - Hyperion
Enescu - eclassical


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