This part of the survey has taken much longer than I would have expected to complete. I was quite surprised by how many composers ended up in this part of the survey – 41 was far more than I’d thought, given the lack of big names in this region of the alphabet. Not helping the scale of the task was that not many could be assigned to the modernist camp, and simply listed at the end. Therefore, to avoid a very long article, I’ve decided to publish it in two sections,
I’ve also decided to adopt an alphabetical, rather than chronological, ordering of composers, since I came to the conclusion that ease of finding a particular entry was more important than any storyline that might develop.
For me, Niels Gade (1817-1890, Denmark) is one of those “nearly” composers, whose music lacks that final spark which would take it from enjoyable to memorable. So it is with his trios: one full scale work (in F, from 1863), a fragment (B flat, 1839) and the Novelletten (1853), not be confused with his two sets of orchestral works by the same name.
You have plenty of choice with the completed Trio, written in 1863 and in Gade’s Schumannesque period, though some of them will be difficult to obtain. You get all the works, completed and otherwise, with Trio Parnassus (review). I haven’t heard their version, but our reviewer was fairly positive, though not keen on the sound. I reviewed the CPO recording by Ensemble MidtVest – on the first volume of a planned complete chamber works series – and while the performance is fine, the sound is uncomfortably resonant, even more so on re-listening for this survey. Equally mediocre sound compromises the Göbel Trio Berlin’s version on SWR Music, and the performance is not especially winning either. The Tre Musici (ClassicO) recording is a couple of decades old, and the performances sound very old school. The best performance and recording I have heard is by the Danish Piano Trio on Dacapo (review). It is a little slower than the competition, but there is so much life in the performance that it seems quicker. It may well be that the couplings make your mind up. For me, the Dacapo wins here as well, as you get the early fragment, plus two other obscure Danish trios.
The Trio movement predates Gade's discovery of Mendelssohn, and reminds me more of Beethoven and Schubert, but lacks the drama of the former and the melting lyricism of the latter. It was the first movement of an intended trio which never proceeded any further. Again the Danish Trio gives the best performance I’ve heard, far superior to Ensemble Midtvest, who are too slow (review) and Tre Musici (Dacapo) who over-Romanticise it.
While you might surmise from the title that the Novelletten are programmatic in nature, the five movements have only tempos as their titles. They are pleasant, but nothing more. Göbel Trio Berlin have been given a better recording than for the Trio, though I find the violin rather screechy. They take more than a minute less than Trio Parnassus, which I suspect is a good thing.
Constantino Gaito (1878-1945, Argentina) was not a name that I was familiar with before the release of some of his chamber music on CPO a few years ago. Don’t expect Piazzolla tango here: this 1917 trio is firmly European in style, very much of the previous century, and at the lighter end of the spectrum, especially in the outer movements. It is nevertheless well crafted and worth a listen.
Hans Gál (1890-1987, Austria/Britain) has garnered significant attention in the last few years, particularly thanks to the Avie label, which has recorded all of his symphonies, many of his orchestral works and some chamber music. At the time of writing, this project has not extended to his three works for trio.
There are only two recordings that include these works, and the one with all three – from the Japanese label Camerata – would seem to be available only through iTunes and some streaming services. The early Variations on a Popular Viennese Tune is very much a salon piece, in contrast to the first trio, at over half an hour, a much more serious endeavour, perhaps a little too much so. It is unusually structured with the outer movements being slow, and this predominant tempo does make it a little hard-going at times. The second trio is slight in comparison at just over ten minutes, but is far better work for it with greater variety. Its mood is smiling and sunny, despite it being written after his escape from Austria in 1938, and subsequent detention in a British internment camp. It has a second (and better) recording, on Gramola, coupled fascinatingly with works by Goldmark (see below) and Zemlinsky. I suggest that you should have this recording in your collection.
Stacy Garrop (b.1969, USA) is one of the most prominent American composers currently working. She has written two works for the Lincoln Trio, Seven (1998) and Silver Dagger (2009). The former, apparently a tribute to Garrop’s late father though it certainly doesn’t sound that way, is full of “sound effects” and dissonance. Our reviewer thought it basically audience-friendly, but the majority of audiences I have been part of would have struggled with it. The latter is more approachable (review), based as it is on an Appalachian folksong, but it retains a modernist edge.
The music of Steven Gerber (1948-2015) evolved over time, in common with a number of composers of his generation, starting out in a modernist style, but gradually moving towards a more approachable one. His three works for this genre - the Piano Trio (1968), Notturno (1996) and Folksong Transformations (2001) - certainly exhibit this change. They appear on a disc of his chamber music as part of the Naxos American Classics series. Our reviewer felt that the early work was full of other influences which hadn’t been fully “digested” by Gerber, and was trying too hard to be modern. By the time we get to the all too brief Folksong work, the word 'melody' no longer seems to be a dirty word.
Whereas composers such as Gerber turned away from atonal music, some of those writing earlier in the century went in the opposite direction. Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970, Spain/Britain) was one such composer. His trio was written in 1918, before his style change, and is very French in sound: think Ravel and Fauré. If you don’t know it and like music of that era and type, you should make its acquaintance. It may not be the composer’s mature voice, but it is tuneful, quite wistful and serene and a fine way to spend 25 minutes.
This work is frequently referred to Trio No. 1, implying there is a No. 2. One source suggests that the second trio is for clarinet, piano and violin, but I believe this is a brief single movement titled Andantino. The Wikipedia works list suggests that there is another trio - in B flat major - also written in 1918, but I can find no other reference it, and certainly no recording. The Roberto Gerhard website doesn’t seem to have a works list.
With regard to recordings, there are plenty of options, with the couplings falling into one of two categories: either other chamber music by Gerhard or other Spanish trios, such as those by Cassadó, Granados and Montsalvatge. The former means you get works from both sides of his output, which may not be to your liking. I have been able to listen to seven of the eight recordings; the RTVE Music disc seems to be no longer available. There is a clearly superior performance, that by the LOM Piano Trio on La Ma De Guido. It is strongly characterised, which is important in a work that is dominated by slow tempos. Having the beautiful Granados trio as coupling is no bad thing either (see below). Both our reviewers were fairly happy with Trio Arriaga on Naxos (review ~ review), though at 53 minutes, there was surely space for another work. I felt that the performances lack a little in the way of colour, especially in comparison with the LOM trio. The Kandinsky Trio have recorded the work twice, with different labels, the Anacrusi CD offering the same couplings as the Naxos, plus Cassadó’s arrangement of the Intermezzo from Granados’ Goyescas, though at only five minutes, that is hardly a disc filler. The later Kandinsky recording with Columna Můsica is a little slower and overly Romanticised, and the couplings are possibly less interesting. The three other recordings have the other Gerhard chamber music, each including the cello sonata from 1956, which is a transcription by Gerhard of his 1948 viola sonata. I can’t say that any of those three performances greatly enthuses me. Both Cantamen (Metier) and Trio Gerhard (La Ma de Guido) adopt sluggish tempos, while Barcelona 216 (Stradivarius) are lifeless both in performance and acoustic. I think you have to be very keen on Gerhard’s music across the spectrum to choose one of these three.
The two trios of Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916, Germany) are richly romantic Brahmsian works, written in the 1870s. There is but a single recording of the two: the Arensky Trio on Antes Edition. Alas, this seems to be no longer available as a physical CD, but you can stream it from various sources or buy it through iTunes. Our reviewer definitely took to it: “strong and impressive” were his words, and he described the performances as “engaging”. I certainly like the music, but feel that the Arensky Trio doesn’t do it full justice. The CPO label has been doing its bit for Gernsheim, with his symphonies, violin concerto and piano quintets among releases in recent years. I hope that they will find their way to his trios soon.
I didn’t warm to the Ricercari of Giorgio Ghedini (1892-1965, Italy), seven short movements in a Neo-Classical style, written in the 1940s. Their brittle and bleak nature, regardless of tempo, are perhaps understandable, given the period in which they were written.
The same can’t be said of the dance-inspired works of Luis Gianneo (1897-1968, Argentina). Our reviewer was impressed by them, describing them as having “genuine substance”, particularly the Segundo Trio from 1943; the first is apparently lost. Be aware, however, that this is not overflowing with glorious melodies in the manner of his countryman, Piazzolla; there is more than a little acidity interspersed among the dance rhythms. The two Danzas Argentinas are enjoyable, but slight.
Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966, USA) wrote unapologetically Romantic works well into the twentieth century. His 1930s trio is likened to Dvorak by our reviewer,
which I feel is being very generous. Each of the three eight minute-plus
movements could perhaps have done with some pruning, as they seem to run
out of steam. I was hoping for more from this work, based on the review
and the composer's general style, so you may have more luck.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960, Britain) wrote widely across all genres, and we have four works for piano trio, one bearing that name, the others more programmatic: Yorkshire Dales, Three Graces and Country Magic. They are all essentially miniatures, even the Trio at a little over 15 minutes, and sweet in the best English pastoral tradition. Our reviewer used adjectives such as “euphoric”, “passionate”, “affectionate” and “meditative”, and that should give a good sense of the style. There is only one recording, well-played but is short measure at under 45 minutes, disappointing given that Gibbs wrote a number of works for violin and piano.
One miniature called Sienna is all we have from Ola Gjeilo (b.1978, Norway), better known for his choral works. It is tuneful, but rather simplistic, and in common with the works for solo piano that make up the rest of the album, more akin to cocktail bar “noodling”.
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857, Russia) originally wrote his 1832 Trio Pathétique for piano, clarinet and bassoon, but an arrangement by Johann Hrimaldy for our combination has proven so successful that it has as many recordings as the original, which is why I have included it here. There are also some recordings with cello replacing bassoon. I have seen it suggested that Schubert, and especially the Trout Quintet, is an influence, though I wouldn’t have thought Glinka would necessarily have even been aware of the Viennese composer’s existence. Perhaps it is best to say that the style is reminiscent of Schubert.
The Oistrakh (Brilliant Classics) and Borodin (Chandos) Trios are the big name ensembles to have recorded this. I haven’t heard the former, but our reviewer described them as “elite, of invincible musicality, dynamic, imaginative”. In typical fashion, the Borodins adopt stately tempos, which for me don’t suit the lightness of this piece at all. At almost 18 minutes, they are much slower than all other versions, which range from 14:18 to 16:55. The Moscow Piano Trio (Hyperion) are given a good review, but their Tchaikovsky coupling is not regarded well at all. Our reviewer was not impressed by the Moscow Trio (Brilliant) considering that they pushed the work too hard. The Premier Trio Moscow (ClassicO) have a very cavernous and unflattering acoustic. Of the others, the only one that seems a non-starter is the Eastman Trio (Vox), which is quite anonymous and not well recorded. This leaves the Turnovsky (Morrison Trust), Hamburg (Dux) and Romantic (Russian CD) trios as possible choices, along with the Moscow and Oistrakh.
Note that three of the ensembles that have recorded this piece have the words 'Moscow' and 'Trio' in their name, but they are all different. Three of the options are only in multi-CD sets (Oistrakh/Brilliant, Moscow/Brilliant, Eastman/Vox) which may not be desirable.
Benjamin Godard (1849-1895, France) has received a modicum of attention from record companies recently, with his symphonies, songs and string quartets appearing of late. His trios, written in 1880 and 1884, were recorded in 2010 by Trio Parnassus (review) and our reviewer was enthusiastic about the first trio particularly, describing it as “adeptly crafted”. He found the second trio to be “less imaginative, though equally attractive”. I had the opposite reaction, finding No. 2 to be very fine, but each is certainly worth your attention. I have had occasion previously in this survey to suggest that Trio Parnassus were to be valued more for their willingness to record forgotten works than their performances, but I cannot fault them here. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like a competing version to come along – Trio Wanderer perhaps – but until that happens, we do have a very fine recording to enjoy.
I would have normally put the trio of Alexander Goehr (b.1932, Britain) in the too-hard basket at the end of the survey, but its single recording has been reviewed here, so I will quote our reviewer: “keyboard writing that evinces Goehr’s debt to Messiaen and Loriod … amongst the most human and affecting of dissonant works”.
Like a number of other composers, such as Beethoven, the short-lived Hermann Goetz (1840-1876, Germany) has a trio as his opus 1, written in 1863. One of the benefits of carrying out this survey (for me personally) has been to uncover hidden gems, and the Goetz is one such, or at least half of it is. The first two movements are exceptional, but the inspiration lags in the Scherzo, and fails entirely in the main recurring theme in the fugal finale. Goetz was a friend of Brahms, and his trio has something of the Classical influences often ascribed to his much more famous colleague, though much less passionate than the Brahms trios. Given Goetz’s limited stature, four recordings is pretty good going, though the most recent was in 2000. Despite the age of the recordings, three are still available, though the Tacet may be rather hard to obtain: I obtained a copy from a site called Elusive Disc and I see they no longer have it. As so often, the couplings may be what decides you between the alternatives. Your choice is between the rest of Goetz’s chamber music for piano (CPO) or a work for trio by another, equally obscure, composer (Kiel/Tacet or Kirchner/Hungaroton). Of the three performances, the Abegg Trio (Tacet) is a couple of minutes slower overall, and while this works to their advantage in the slow second movement, it is not a positive in the finale. The Göbel Trio Berlin (CPO) is probably the best performance, but the Hungaroton trio is much better than usual in my experience of this label, and likewise the recording is well above average.
Alexander Goldenweiser (1875-1961, Russia) was better known as a teacher and pianist than a composer. His trio, from 1950 and written in memory of his close friend Rachmaninov, pays homage to the trio of Tchaikovsky in its two movement structure; the first an extended elegy, the second a set of variations. The Elegia is quite beautifully if simply written, and totally anachronistic for its period. The variations are less inspired, but this is still a very fine unsung trio that you should take the trouble to track down. There is an old recording with the composer with Kogan and Rostropovich, and a brand new one, at time of writing, from Genuin. The former is available through iTunes and Spotify, and obviously is the horse’s mouth version, together with real star quality. It is, however, tracked very strangely, being in seven parts, none of which seem to correspond to the actual movements. The new recording may not have the star performers, but it is intelligently coupled with both its musical inspiration – the Tchaikovsky trio – and its emotional tie – Rachmaninov’s second Trio Élégiaque, and is well played and well recorded.
Karl Goldmark (1830-1915, Hungary/Austria) is best known for his Rustic Wedding symphony. His two trios, from 1859 and 1880, are quite a contrast, the first sunny and amiable, the second, much darker and serious. They both have their virtues, but the later work, written when Goldmark was being fęted in Vienna, is undoubtedly the better, and one that deserves more than the three recordings it has. If you want both trios, then the Mendelssohn Trio (Centaur) is a better option by far than the Bartos Trio (Hungaroton) who are rather ponderous. The best performance, but only of the second trio, is the group led by Evgenui Sinaiski on Gramola (review), also mentioned above in the section on Hans Gál.
The Trio No. 1 of David Golightly (b.1948, Britain) doesn’t have a true commercial recording, but a recording of a live performance is available for purchase from the composer, together with the score. Since he took the trouble to send it to me, I couldn’t possibly not mention it here. It has a bittersweet tang to it; I have seen a reference to Shostakovich, which is not inapt but does raise expectations of quality a little higher than is fair.