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An A to Z of the Piano Trio Repertoire: "G” Composers Part 2
by David Barker

Discography & Review Index: "G" Survey Index

Given how long it’s been since the previous offering in this survey, you would be forgiven for thinking I’d been run over by a bus, or simply given up on the project. Fear not, I’m still going, as is the survey, and an unspoken (until now) 2017 resolution is to make sure that it regains its early momentum. Having said that, I look ahead to H, and see the forty-something Haydn trios waiting for me. I will, as before, work on publishing the discography first, and follow it with the survey.

There is no mistaking the Spanish origins of the 1954 trio by Gerardo Gombau (1906-1971, Spain). While generally tonal and tuneful, its melodies are tempered with 20th century acidity. Its only recording is coupled with two other interesting and rare Spanish works, making this release a very interesting one.

Emile Goué (1904-1946, France) would be an almost invisible presence in the catalogue were it not for the rather hard to obtain Azur Classical label, who have released four CDs dedicated to his compositions, three of chamber music. There is no doubting the French nature of his single trio, written in 1933, though certainly it does sound more from the end of the previous century than twenty years after Rite of Spring. It predates his lessons with Koechlin which apparently brought his style into the twentieth century: the late quintet, on the same disc as the trio and written while he was a POW, is distinctly modernist. The trio, however, shows the influence of Cesar Franck in its structure, though the melodies and harmonic patterns are more that of the French fin de siècle.

Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898, France) wrote five trios, but strangely while numbers 2, 3 & 4 are available in competing versions, 1 & 5 have missed the boat entirely. I don’t believe that they are lost – the score for No. 1 is available at IMSLP, after all - so their absence from the catalogue is mystifying. Gouvy’s style is typical of its era: somewhere in the vicinity of Mendelssohn and Schumann, but with sufficient difference to give it its own character. Somewhat surprisingly, the works become progressively lighter, less profound and less enjoyable in order of composition.

Our reviewer was very impressed with Voces Intimae on Challenge who give us all three, and I have to agree. You may have already gathered that the fortepiano doesn’t rank among my favourite instruments, but the instrument they use has a full, rich sound. That said, I’m not convinced that works written in the middle of the nineteenth century, contemporaneous with those of Schumann, necessarily justify the use of the older instrument, nor string instruments from previous centuries. Nevertheless, this isn’t music with grand Romantic passions, and therefore the lighter sounding instruments do not detract, and there is no question that the performances are very good.

The other recordings use modern instruments. The Munich Piano Trio give us Trios 2 & 3 on Orfeo and certainly imbue the music with a more Romantic and serious feel. Is that better or worse than Voces? It is neither, just different. I am very impressed by the K617 recording of Trio 2, in spirit closer to Voces Intimae. If you are a trio maven, then their coupling of a string quintet may not be an incentive to purchase, but I found it to be of equal quality to the trio.

Trio 4, the least impressive of the three by some distance, is available in two other recordings. One is part of a deluxe 3-CD production by Ediciones Singulares, complete with a hundred-plus page hardcover book, coupled with vocal and orchestral works. You will therefore need to be very keen on Gouvy, and there are good reasons to feel so, to purchase this. The performance by Trio Arcadis makes the best case of all for this weak work. The other recording is the only unimpressive performance of any of the Gouvy trios. From 2002 on a little known label (La Follia Madrigal), Trio Werther do not make a good case for the work. The string tone is abrasive, the rhythms too choppy. As a footnote from Part 1 of this survey, since I didn’t know of this recording at that point, the Godard coupling is no better.

The three works for trio by Paul Graener (1872-1944, Germany/Britain) were all written in the early twentieth century, and our reviewer found a good deal to praise in them. The earliest - the Suite - is genial and Schubertian, well stocked with good melodies and interesting rhythms. Its mood reflects a happier time in Graener’s mostly tragic life: his first son would die later in the same year as this work. The Poem, written two years later is a much darker work, but again well crafted, though in excess of twenty minutes in a single movement is probably taking its material a little far. The Piano Trio (1922) has elements of the French fin de siècle, though with some Germanic angst thrown in. Here there is no sense that the music outstays its welcome. Re-visiting these works after a few years, I have found a great deal to enjoy in them, more so than on first listen. Rounding out the CD is a song-cycle for trio and baritone.

It may sound like an exaggeration to say that the first few pages of the Enrique Granados (1867-1916, Spain) trio (1895) are as beautiful as any in the repertoire, but that is how I feel each time I hear the deceptively simple and remarkably modern piano theme. This is a work that deserves more than the eight recordings it has garnered. Only the rather banal salonesque final movement prevents it from being classified as a minor masterpiece. Could I say that it is three-quarters of one, perhaps? This is by some way, in an admittedly weak field, the best “G” trio, and if you don’t know it, please redress that as soon as possible.

Of the recordings, I have been able to hear all but the CPO and Analekta, and have reviewed two: Trio Rodin (Aevea - review) and LOM Trio (Naxos - review) on these pages. The former is my pick of all the versions that I have heard. It has a warmth and depth of characterisation that most of the others lack. You also get a well-filled disc of other Granados chamber goodies. The Naxos performance, the second by the LOM trio, is quite good, and has the very fine quintet as coupling, but at only 45 minutes, the disc is seriously underfilled. The earlier LOM Trio recording (La Ma De Guido) is perhaps not as good, but has what I have already rated as the best Gerhard performance as a discmate. The elegance of this work would seem a perfect match for the great Beaux Arts Trio, and that is indeed the case. Alas, the single CD is no longer available (though ArkivMusic will do a CD-R special order), and even so, I think that Trio Rodin is still better. Avoid the Gotham Trio (Orion) who have given the work a neo-Classical makeover – perhaps to blend with the Klein and Martinů discmates - creating a complete absence of any warmth or expression.

Heard of Edwin Grasse (1884-1954, USA)? I certainly hadn’t, and nor have many record labels either, though a few notable violinists – Jascha Heifetz and Joshua Bell – have recorded his violin and piano piece, Wellenspiel. The second trio is the only one recorded, and is certainly pleasant enough, but the simple ingredients from which it is constructed are not sufficient to maintain interest in its almost thirty minutes duration.

Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956, Russia) is a somewhat under-appreciated composer, whose works have been well supported by Chandos particularly, who have recorded his five symphonies, various choral works and the two piano trios. Grechaninov lived the last thirty years of his life in Paris and the US, and these two works are separated by his move away from Russia. The first, from 1906, is dedicated to his teacher Sergei Taneyev, and influenced by his idol, Tchaikovsky. It is very dramatic, perhaps a little much for its own good, and unfortunately, has melodies rather more akin to those of the former than the latter. The second was written in Paris in 1930 or California in 1931, depending on which source you read. Either way, it is somewhat lighter in mood and less obviously Russian. It is also significantly shorter, which is probably a good thing, but still not blessed with much in the way of memorable melodies. I feel that chamber music was not his forte – the symphonies and choral works are definitely better.

There are three recordings of each work, in each case paired with one another. With the Bekova Sisters (Chandos) and the Marco Polo ensemble, the fifty or so minutes is all you get for your money. This probably makes the Moscow Piano Trio (Hyperion) better value as they throw in the cello sonata to help fill the disc. There is also a significant difference in tempos, especially in the first trio. The Moscow trio takes 27 minutes, while the Marco Polo group comes in at a little over 32, and the Bekovas well over 33. The music is not sufficiently deep or interesting enough to support such broad tempi, so I think the Hyperion release, especially as a budget Helios release, is the best option.

Arthur de Greef (1862-1940, Belgium) was a pupil of Liszt, and better known as a pianist. His trio, written in 1935, belongs very much to the previous century (review ~ review). It is not endowed with memorable themes or interesting rhythms. Both our reviewers commented on the close miking, and I found the violinist’s tone to be rather shrill. However, there is only one recording, so if you want to hear this, you will need to put the sound problems to one side.

Our reviewer absolutely loved the 1998 trio of Olivier Greif (1950-2000, France) (review). Too sharp and acidulous for me, you will have to make your own mind up with the help of his comments, and some judicious sampling.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907, Norway) did not venture often into the realm of chamber music, and only once for trio: his Andante con moto from 1878, the only movement from an abandoned full scale work. I first encountered the work as part of an excellent collection of miniatures by the Boulanger Trio (review). It certainly made me wish that Grieg had followed through and completed the whole trio. That performance remains a very recommendable one, especially given the the mix of interesting discmates. However, the best performance to which I was able to listen is the BIS recording, which has more Grieg and also some Grainger. For some reason, it missed being reviewed on these pages, and I intend to write one shortly. Of the other recordings, I found those taking more than 10 minutes for this were simply too slow, treating the tempo instruction as an adagio, and in doing so, getting bogged down. These were the Moscow Trio (Brilliant Classics) and most extremely at over 11 minutes, Göbel Trio Berlin (Thorofon). The Grieg Trio (Simax) had a good tempo, but couldn’t match the quality of playing of the BIS trio and the Boulangers. I was not able to hear the Regis recording, but our reviewer suggested that it was given a sympathetic reading and comes in under 10 minutes (review).

The compositions of Jorge Grundman (b.1961, Spain) are simple and sweet, occasionally a little too much so. His trio, A Walk Across Adolescence, has some interesting jazzy elements, and there is no doubting he can write some lovely melodies, but his ability to do much with them is more questionable. Our reviewer suggested that much of the piece is occupied by “Moonriver-like love music”, which may give you a sense of its nature (review).

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b.1932, Denmark) has a number of recordings for Dacapo. His trio, Moments Musicaux, was written in 2006 for a Schubert-loving friend and apparently quotes liberally from Schubert’s piano pieces. I say apparently because they are rather lost in the seemingly random collection of events that make up this piece. Our reviewer’s summary was that “the novelties of the piece make it more of a witty and original experiment and not a work to repeat too often” (review). I struggled to get through it once.

Christopher Gunning (b.1944, Britain) is an important film and TV score composer, but has also written a significant body of well-regarded classical works. His very recent trio (2014) has very programmatic titles for all four movements, which is perhaps not too surprising, given his background. For example, the first, "Au Jardin de Maurice”, was inspired by a visit to the house where Ravel wrote many of his famous works. It pays homage to the Frenchman’s style and some of his works. If I was to have a criticism, it would be that the four movements, individually interesting as they are, have no musical connection to one another (review).

Adalbert Gyrowetz (1763-1850, Bohemia) wrote in the vicinity of 40 trios, but the four presented by the Austrian ensemble Trio Fortepiano are the only ones that seem to have been recorded. Not surprisingly, they are very much from the Haydn mould, and you will not be disappointed by making their acquaintance. The fortepiano used in the recording has its tinkly moments, but if I was able to get past its sound, then I’m sure you will.

Included in discography only
- Philip Grange (b. 1956, Britain)
- Maria Grenfell (b.1969, New Zealand)
- Artürs Grïnups (1931-1989, Latvia)
- Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993, Brazil)
- Joan Guinjoan (b.1931, Spain)

Peder Gram, op. 6

The following recordings were obtained for this survey as downloads from Hyperion Records and eClassical:
Gouvy (K617) - eClassical
Grechaninov – Hyperion
Grieg - eClassical


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