CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
26 JANUARY 2011
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Arnell: Sym 7 "Mandela" (rlz cndctr); Bate, S.: Sym 4; Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Those who've been following Dutton's timely revival of symphonies by British composers Richard Arnell (1917-2005, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009) and Stanley Bate (1911-1959, see the newsletter of 25 April 2010) will welcome this latest addition. Both are recording firsts, and in the case of the Arnell, this was its world première in a realization done by the conductor here, Martin Yates (b. 1958), from sketches left by the composer at the time of his death (see the informative album notes for more details).
A tribute to Nelson Mandela (b. 1918), Arnell's seventh (1996-2005, realized in 2010) is in three-movements, which from the composer's notes would seem to have programmatic significance related to the dedicatee's politically active years in South Africa. The opening one is strife torn with flamboyantly colored orchestral passages, including angry percussive outbursts that would seem to fit Arnell's description of the symphony's first part as "augury, aspirations, youth (with battles)." In that regard batteries of timpani to the left and right make the music all the more dramatic, recalling Carl Nielsen's (1865-1931) use of same in his Inextinguishable Symphony (No. 4, 1914-16).
The second part, andante, footnoted by the composer as "lament (to prison)," begins with a searching lyrical theme (SL) for the horn answered by the strings. A moving mournful episode follows, only to be interrupted by more timpanic havoc that gives way to a "big tune" restatement of SL. However, fate intervenes as pounding drums augmented by ff orchestral chords silence it, and the mood becomes threateningly mysterious. The movement then ends somewhat like it began, but in a slightly more optimistic light.
The finale, which the composer referred to as "release and conclusion with peace," begins with raging percussion which incites the orchestra into all-out rebellion. This suddenly subsides as LS quietly reappears, and once again assumes "big tune" status, ending the symphony triumphantly. Granted there is a cinematic dimension here, but only in the best sense of the term when you consider Arnell, like his close friend Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975, see the newsletter of 12 April 2010), was also an extremely gifted film score composer.
Besides his native England, Stanley Bate was an itinerant composer who spent time in Australia, New York City, and Rio de Janeiro, where he began his fourth symphony in 1954, completing it in London the following year (1955). In four movements, the opening allegro is driven and has some initial passages [track-1, beginning at 01:10] that recall the last movement of Bartok's (1881-1945) Concerto for Orchestra (1942-45). Highly energetic and with frequent time signature changes, the music grabs the listener's attention and doesn't let go.
Except for a couple of tempestuous spasms, the following andante is lyrically elegiac with minimally optimistic piano and harp colorations. The nervous presto that's next provides an engaging transition into the final moderato. Here peaceful pastoral passages reminiscent of Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), with whom Bate studied, are set upon by boisterously belligerent ones. The latter finally win the day as the symphony ends in shrieks of desperation.
Like the Arnell, there's a cinematic aura here. But Bate never allows it to get out of hand, writing music more in the matter-of-fact Gebrauchsmusik style of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), who was also one of his teachers.
With this release conductor Martin Yates completes his survey of all seven Arnell symphonies (Dutton 7161, 7184, 7194, 7217 and 7255), as well as the two surviving Bate ones (Dutton 7239 and 7255). As in the past, he gets the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) to play their hearts out. These exemplary performances should go a long way towards making better known a couple of British rarities deserving much wider exposure.
Done at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, the recordings project a broad, considerably deep soundstage, and must qualify as among the best to come out of this venue. Brilliant orchestral effects with a strong dose of percussion result in an extended frequency range and explosive dynamics.
The orchestral timbre is bright in the upper registers, adding clarity to these complex scores without becoming fatiguing. The bass is rock solid, serving as a good test of a sound system’s low-end transient response.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110126)
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Freitas Branco (Branco): Sym 4, Vathek; Cassuto/RTÉNa SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Continuing their survey of Portuguese composer Luís de Freitas Branco's (1890-1955) orchestral works, Naxos now gives us a fourth volume with a symphonic poem written near the beginning of his career, and the last of his four symphonies finished near the end of it. Oddly enough the earlier piece is much more progressive, so much so that it had to wait almost half a century for its first complete performance.
Begun in 1944, it would take him eight years to finish the symphony (1952). While calling for substantial forces, the composer exercises a neoclassical restraint that precludes the embarras de richesses frequently found in late romantic music.
Like the second symphony (1926-27, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009) it's based on plainsong melodies, one of which is immediately quoted in the reserved opening. The tempo increases, and using episodic building blocks sometimes suggestive of Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) [track-1, beginning at 06:50], Freitas Branco constructs a thrilling sonic edifice. The opening ideas are then restated and worked into an exultant final coda.
In the following adagio, reverentially ambulant passacaglia-like outer sections surround a radiant central one. The movement creates a feeling of serenity that's quickly dispelled by a hyperactive scherzo. Here an antsy, five-note motif followed by an engaging, folk-sounding tune (EF) generate a high level of excitement, anticipating the symphony's exhilarating finale.
This is an allegro, which begins with festive flourishes based on a fragment of EF. But they soon subside, and the music becomes hesitantly pensive, coalescing into an imposing solemn chorale (IS). An arresting development with coronary drumbeats follows, and then a recapitulation terminating in a breathtaking final coda based on IS. This is one of those complex romantic works requiring repeated listening to be fully appreciated.
Based on English writer William Beckford's (1760-1844) Gothic novel Vathek (1786), the next selection is known by the same name, but the composer goes on to describe it as a "Symphonic Poem in the Form of Variations on an Oriental Theme." The story concerns Caliph Vathek and the five palaces he builds dedicated to each of the human senses (see the album notes for the composer's synoptic preface to the score). Written in 1913 and at just over half an hour, there are some modernistic touches that put it so far ahead of the times it wouldn't receive its first complete performance until 1961.
The introduction takes the form of a polytonal brass fanfare similar to the one that opens Paul Dukas' (1865-1935) ballet La Péri of the previous year (1912). The bassoon then states the exotic Eastern-sounding main subject. It signifies the Caliph, and may bring Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Le Coq d'Or (The Golden Cockerel, 1907) to mind. A brief prologue follows in which the winds offer up some additional melodic exotica accompanied by what at the time must have been bewildering twelve-tone chords on the strings.
Five variations meant to represent each of the palaces are next, beginning with the one dedicated to the sense of taste. Entitled "Eternal Feast" [track-8], here the theme undergoes a transformation that's alternately agitated and queasy -- maybe the Caliph ate too much!
The next two palatial variations couldn't be more different! Devoted to hearing, the "Temple of Melody" [track-9] is characterized by a gorgeous extended variant of the main theme. But the one honoring sight, "Delight of the Eyes" [track-10], is a dissonant fifty-nine voice fugato that anticipates Gyorgy Ligeti's (1923-2006) wilder moments. It might best be described as symphonic pointillism.
In the fourth olfactory variation, "Palace of the Perfumes" [track-11], repeated figurations for the high instruments suggest fragrant scents wafting through harem halls. It sets the mood for the final tactile variation, "Refuge of Happiness" [track-12], where we're told beautiful maidens attend the Caliph and his guests. Sensuous and dance-like, it brings Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Salome (1905) to mind.
Vathek closes with a mesmerizing epilogue exuding Eastern mysticism that's once again way ahead of its time. It anticipates such works as Bartók's (1881-1945) The Miraculous Mandarin (1926) and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936).
As on his previous Naxos releases of Freitas Branco's orchestral music, Portuguese conductor Álvaro Cassuto leads the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland in stunning performances. The attention to instrumental detail, phrasing and dynamics he lavishes on what are two of this composer's most complex scores is exceptional. Maestro Cassuto and his Irish colleagues are owed a vote of thanks for championing a composer worthy of wider attention.
Done in Dublin's National Concert Hall, the recordings project a vast soundstage in reverberant surroundings, which should appeal to those with a penchant for wetter sonics. The overall orchestral timbre is good with clear highs and well-defined bass. The only reservation would be occasional upper midrange peakiness in ff passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110125)
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Mulet: Org Wks Cpte; Farnham: Toccata on...; Derrett/Cav-Coll Org, NotDamLon, England [Priory]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
One of the best French romantic organ releases to appear in a long, long time, here's some music by Parisian-born Henri Mulet (1878-1967). A student of Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911, see the newsletter of 1 June 2007) and Charles Marie Widor (1844-1937, see the newsletter of 8 February 2010), you'll find hints of them in it as well as Louis Vierne (1870-1937) and Charles Tournemire (1870-1939, see the newsletter of 17 February 2007).
Mulet was organist at several Paris churches, where he was known as a brilliant improviser. Then in 1937, having for a number of reasons become disenchanted with life in the "City of Light," he moved to Draguignan in Southern France, where he would spend the rest of his life.
Before leaving Paris he left his manuscripts to a couple of friends, but the ones for keyboard were in such bad shape as to be unplayable, so only a few orchestral ones survive. That coupled with his not being very prolific in the first place means the few organ works that have come down to us easily fit on the two discs in this album.
The first CD features his ten-part suite Esquisses Byzantines (Byzantine Sketches) written in memory of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Montmartre in Paris. Inspired by the church's Romano-Byzantine architecture, it was probably composed prior to World War I (1914-1918). The soaring "Nef" ("Nave") opening [CD-1, track-1] is awe inspiring, creating a musical representation of towering domed spaces. It begins with a motif which will appear in various guises throughout the work, thereby unifying it.
The next two sketches are the delicately registrated "Vitrail" ("Stained Glass Window") [CD-1, track-2] and "Rosace" ("Rose Window") [CD-1, track-3], where one can imagine chromatic shafts of light from them producing ever-shifting kaleidoscope patterns throughout the church. The latter has all the nirvanic appeal of the "In paradisum” (“In Paradise") conclusion to Fauré's (1845-1924) Requiem (1887-91). It sets the mood for the restrained "Chapelle des morts" ("Mortuary Chapel") [CD-1, track-4] and "Campanile" ("Bell Tower") [CD-1, track-5] esquisses, both of which are sublimely moving pieces. Incidentally, the former is dedicated to the memory of Cardinal Guibert (1802-1996), who was responsible for the Basilica's construction.
The toccata-like "Procession" which follows [CD-1, track-6] is a Mulet masterpiece! It has that thrilling sense of improvisatory spontaneity captured so well by French organ composers. And speaking of them, the main idea for the next selection, "Chant funèbre" ("Funeral Chant") [CD-1, track-7], is based on the opening theme from the second movement of Franck's (1822-1890) Symphony (1886-8), while that for "Noël" ("Carol") [CD-1, track-8] harkens back to the first few measures of his much earlier Prelude, Fugue and Variations (organ, 1860-2).
The last two esquisses couldn't be more different! "In paradisum" ("In Paradise") [CD-1, track-9] is a reserved meditation wherein exotic stops add a sense of mystery. The concluding "Tu es petra..." ("Thou Art a Rock...") [CD-1, track-10] is a flamboyant full-fledged toccata that may bring to mind Franck's Pièce héroïque, which is the third of his Three Pieces (organ, 1878). It ends this first CD in a piping hot blaze of glory.
Starting in the late 1800s, several collections of French organ music were published, each containing works by a number of composers, including Mulet. These account for most of his seven other extant organ pieces. All are included on the second disc, beginning with Méditation religieuse (Religious Meditation) [CD-2, track-1] of 1896. A student piece dedicated to Widor, there's a transparency and melodic fluidity that seem to be Mulet trademarks.
Petit offertoire (Small Offering) [CD-2, track-2] and Sortie douce (Soft Postlude) [CD-2, track-3] are both attractive, chromatically gossamer miniatures dating from sometime before 1914. Published in 1902, the lovely Prière (Prayer) [CD-2, track-4] is dedicated to Guilmant, and brings to mind Franck's Cantabile, which is the second of his Three Pieces mentioned above.
Next up, the one work on which Mulet's fame seems to rest, his captivating Carillon-Sortie (Bell Postlude) [CD-2, track-5] written sometime before 1912, and dedicated to his good friend, organist-composer Joseph Bonnet (1884-1944). A virtuosic hand and foot workout, it anticipates the "carillon" selections in Louis Vierne's 24 Pièces en style libre (organ, 1913) and Pièces de fantaisie: Suite No. 3 (organ, 1927).
A pious calm pervades Offertoire funèbre (Funeral Offering) [CD-2, track-6], which was also probably composed before 1912, and Offertoire pour la fête du Saint-Rosaire... (Saint Rosaire Festival Offering…) [CD-2, track-7] from 1932. The former again honors Bonnet, and the latter is a beautifully registrated, moving melodic memorial to Lynwood Farnam (1885-1930).
Canadian-born and British-trained, Farnam spent most of his later years in the United States, where he became one of its most outstanding organists. He was known for championing the music of many North American contemporary composers, including Canadian-based Healey Willan's (1880-1968) ever popular Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue (1916, see the newsletter of 9 February 2006).
So as an added bonus the second disc concludes with Farnham's only opus, Toccata on O Filii et Filiae (date of composition unknown, but published in 1932). It's very much in the French tradition, and certainly makes up in quality what his output lacks in quantity, ending this musically invaluable album on a real high.
Located in Notre Dame de France Church, Leicester Place, London, the organ on this CD was completed in 1865 by the renowned French builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899). And even though it's undergone a number of restorations by British firms -- the building was partly destroyed by German bombs in November 1940 during the “Battle of Britain” – it retains that piquant Gallic voicing so typical of his instruments.
This and organist Paul Derrett's adherence to Mulet's own registration, except for a couple of places calling for stops not available here, make for a totally convincing French sound. Not only that, Derrett plays these pieces to perfection, using his considerable technical abilities only in service to the music.
The recordings date from over twenty years ago (1988), making one wonder where they've been hiding. But better late than never because they sound pretty good, and represent the only currently available complete traversal of Mulet's organ works. The sonics are quite satisfying, closely approximating what you'd hear in a French cathedral. The only reservation would be in full organ passages where there's some of that upper-end graininess typically found in earlier digital recordings.
One parting thought for any adventurous Naxos folks who might be reading this. How about recording some of Mulet’s orchestral works (see above)? And while you're at it, Pierné's (1863-1937) symphonic arrangements of Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (piano, 1884), and Prelude, Aria and Finale (piano, 1886-7) would be most welcome additions to the current catalog.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110124)
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Post, D.: Stg Qts 2, 3 & 4 "Three Photographs...", Fant on a Virtual Choral, Hawth Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The four selections by American composer David L. Post (b. 1949) on this release are significant additions to the body of music for string quartet. Beautifully constructed, intellectually stimulating and immediately approachable, this is contemporary music at its most engaging.
The concert begins with the second quartet of 2001 commissioned by the Martinu Quartet (see the newsletter of 28 April 2007), and hearing it one would have to say they really got their money's worth! In four movements, the opening moderato begins with an eight-note, semitone row (ES) which is the idée fixe for the entire work. Using contrapuntal devices, Post then proceeds to elaborate and develop ES with consummate skill proving he's a master of the quartet medium.
The catchy scherzo that's next has jazzy outer sections with a pizzicato walking bass line for the cello, surrounding a meditative episode of more romantic persuasion. This foreshadows the following lento, which is an intricate offering featuring a lovely extended melody with jarring points of inflection, all derived from ES.
In the concluding allegro showers of notes alternate with patches of lyrical sunshine highlighted by avian glissandi on the high strings. The ES motif is again pervasive and takes a final bow in the closing coda, ending the quartet with a great sense of unity.
The brief Fantasia on a Virtual Choral from 2003 was inspired by Josef Suk's (1874-1935) Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn “St. Wenceslas” (1914), which was also originally for string quartet. The beginning is a swirling mist of vaporous references to the chorale. These gradually materialize into the big tune, but not for long as it fades into oblivion.
Post's fourth quartet (2005) subtitled "Three Photographs of Abelardo Morell" takes its inspiration from pictures by the Cuban-born, American photographer of that name (b. 1948). The opening movement titled "Brookline View in Brady's Room" is ambiguously mysterious in some places and distinctly playful in others.
The next "Book: Pietà" is in two arches suggesting a picture of Michelangelo's timeless sculpture spread across both pages of an open book. Emotionally wrought and in the late romantic vein, this is very moving heartfelt music, which is in complete contrast to the closing "Map in Sink". Here repeated seven-note tone-rows suggest lines of longitude and latitude, while shifting string textures seemingly represent land features on the subject map.
In a single twenty-minute span consisting of four connected sections, the third quartet (2003) is a masterpiece of structural concision. The busy opening excites the ear, and contains passages hinting of Bohuslav Martinu's (1890-1959) string quartets (1912-47). The inner two sections take the form of an ominously Stygian adagio [track-9, beginning at 04:30] with a hint of dyspepsia, and entomologically twitchy scherzo [track-9, beginning at 09:54].
The finale, described by the composer as tenebroso [track-9, beginning at 13:25], sees a return of "the dark side." Gloom and despair prevail right through to the end of the quartet as it disintegrates into the vacuum of space.
All members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Hawthorne Quartet musicians easily live up to their mother organization's legendary reputation. Highly acclaimed in the past for their discs championing the music of Czech composers incarcerated in Theresienstadt by the Nazis (1941-45), they now turn to contemporary America with these equally compelling performances. Their attention to detail and the sensitivity with which they perform these scores will add all the more to your enjoyment of some extraordinary new chamber music.
Made on different occasions between 2002 and 2007 in the same Prague studio, the recordings project slightly different soundstages. The second and third quartets are spread across a generous space in a reverberant acoustic with string tone that's a bit wiry. The fantasy and third quartet seem slightly more confined in comparison, but present more natural sounding strings. And just for the record, there are a couple of low frequency rumbles in the fantasy probably from nearby traffic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110123)
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Raff, J.: Tageszeiten, Morgenlied, Entschlafenen, Sterne; Quinn/SångChC/NLandsOp SO [Sterling]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Born in Switzerland and for the most part self-taught, Joachim Raff (1822-1882) moved to Germany in 1850, where he became friends with Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Liszt (1811-1886). He would go on to assist the latter, even orchestrating some of Liszt's works, while becoming a prolific composer in his own right. The four selections for chorus and orchestra on this disc find him at his most creative.
That's particularly true of the forty-minute Die Tageszeiten (Times of the Day, 1877-78), which is a hybrid piano concerto and choral symphony somewhat on the order of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra (Op. 80, 1807). Described by Raff as a "concertante in four movements," and set to a text by his daughter describing pastoral scenes, one could think of it as a seven-to-eleven compression of Haydn's (1732-1809) The Seasons (1799-1801).
Set at midday, the first movement opens with a radiant piano cadenza followed by the orchestra stating the attractive sunlit main theme. After an engaging concerto-like exchange between the two, the chorus enters singing a paean to country life. Raff masterful manipulation of the piano, chorus and orchestra makes for thrilling listening.
The sunset and evening adagio that's next is a lovely soporific prelude to the nocturnal third movement. The latter is at heart a scherzo with fleetingly dreamy Mendelssohnian outer sections surrounding a tuneful trio extolling "blessed night" (see the extensive album notes for a more detailed analysis).
The dawn of a new day is the subject of the final allegro, where Raff waxes melodically. Here the piano and chorus paint a picture of rustic bliss made all the more resplendent by joyous pronouncements from the orchestra. The jubilant ending can't help but lift one’s spirits.
Two brief choral songs with orchestra from 1873 are next. Morgenlied (Morning Song) has as its text a poem by Johann Georg Jacobi (1740-1814), while Einer Entschlafenen (To a Woman Who Passed Away) is a setting of one by the composer himself written under the pen name Arnold Börner.
The former is a gorgeous anthem extolling sunrise and the beginning of a new day, with Raff's music effectively capturing all the natural wonder of the occasion. Conversely the latter is a lament that only gradually brightens as the soul of the deceased is exhorted to ascend into heaven. In the version done here, some of the lines are sung by three sopranos, which makes the music all the more dramatic.
The disc concludes with what is probably the première performance of Die Sterne (The Stars) written in 1880. Again relying on his daughter's writings, Raff uses five of her poems to the stars for this cosmic cantata. With no story-line, each is an imaginative poetic conceptualization of distant suns in different contexts.
Raff's seraphic setting of the opening poem conveys the wonder of the night sky and temporal earth bathed in eternal starlight. The two that follow are more worldly somewhat antsy commentaries on man's relationship to these heavenly bodies.
The fourth part opens with a magnificent passage for solo horn and strings that must rank among the composer's finest. The chorus then enters, intoning sentiments that might best be described as anticipating those expressed in the old familiar song "When You Wish Upon a Star" (Walt Disney's Pinocchio, 1940).
Raff turns the final poem into a hymn and fugue of praise for the noble light of the stars, and the higher power it implies. Truly inspired, those who've considered Raff a second-rate composer may well change their minds after hearing this.
The Sångkraft Chamber Choir and Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra under conductor Andrea Quinn do well by this music. And pianist Tra Nguyen technically accomplished, finely attuned playing in the first selection is everything one could ask for. Credit also goes to sopranos Josefin Wolving, Lena Nordlund and Lena Palmquist for their solo work in the closing piece, even if it could be a little more polished.
The recordings present a wide soundstage set in a warm reverberant acoustic. The balance between the piano, chorus and orchestra is ideal, however there's a bit of top end digital grain in massed passages. But don't let sonic nitpicking deter you from trying these rare choral treats.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110122)
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Rubinstein, A.: Pno Trios Cpte (5); Edlian Pno Trio [Metronome]
SUGGESTED (2 CDs)
Two of the greatest piano virtuosos to come out of Russia in the nineteenth century, the Rubinstein brothers appeared on concert stages all over Europe and America. The younger Nikolai (1835-1881) will be remembered as the intended dedicatee of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) first piano concerto (1875, revised 1879 and 1889, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009), who made one of history’s most monumental misjudgments when he called it unworthy and unplayable.
The older Anton (1829-1894) was not only a legendary keyboard artist, but a highly revered teacher, and prolific composer with six symphonies and five piano concertos (see the newsletter of 9 February 2006) to his credit. He also wrote a substantial amount of chamber music, including two exemplary cello sonatas, and the five delightful piano trios, which make their collective silver disc debut on this invaluable new release from Metronome.
Many of us would question frequent past usage of the sobriquet "The Russian Brahms" in conjunction with Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936, see the newsletter of 20 August 2009) and even Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915, see the newsletter of 31 July 2009). But it would be hard to argue against it in the case of Anton Rubinstein who studied in Berlin for four years (1844-48), and was thoroughly trained in the German tradition.
This is particularly apparent in his first two piano trios dating from around 1851. Both are characterized by a lyricism reminiscent of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), but their temperament and layout are quite different.
The earlier one is in three, generally cheerful extroverted moderato movements, while its successor is in four, more withdrawn pensive ones. In that regard, the first trio is the black sheep of the family as all the others are in the usual four. You’ll find its highly melodic, skillfully structured sonata form conclusion and the insistently pleading opening of the second trio totally captivating.
Dedicated to a Russian princess, the third trio of 1857 will be the highpoint of the album for many. Here Anton begins to sound Slavic with a number of thematic ideas that would seem to have Russian folk roots. The opening moderato is exceptional for its arresting melodies and the composer's inventive development of them.
The following adagio is cerebrally wistful, contrasting effectively with the next allegro. This is a scherzo with charming outer sections built on a skittering mousy theme, surrounding a comely waltz-like trio section. Some may find it foreshadows passages in Moritz Moszkowski's (1854-1925) piano concerto (1898).
But the composer saves the best for last, giving us a magnificent allegro appassionato finale with a killer first theme, rivaling those soon to come in the piano trios of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Taneyev (1856-1915) and Arensky (1861-1906). It makes this little-known movement one of the most satisfying in all Russian romantic chamber music. You'll find yourself playing it again and again.
Increments of thirteen years would separate the last three trios, with the fourth appearing in 1870 and fifth in 1883. Both are much more progressive with chromatically adventurous melodies as well as a sense of introspection presaging Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) Elegiac Trios (No. 1, 1892; No. 2, 1893, revised in 1907 and 1917).
The fourth begins with a slow Eastern-sounding melody that gives way to three themes which seem Slavic folk related. An ingenious combination development and recapitulation follows making this one of the most imaginative movements in any of the trios. Although marked moderato, the next section is an innovative scherzo, in which the composer juxtaposes a whirling Mephistophelean motif with a romantically rhapsodic one.
The andante features lovely hymn-like passages with a couple of fretful Beethoven (1770-1827) outbursts that anticipate the concluding allegro. Here anguished virtuosic runs on the piano and weeping strings seem to describe some tragic emotionally wrought scenario, where the only hope lies in a ravishing melody heard early on [track-4, beginning at 01:37]. But sadly it’s ultimately swept away as the trio ends despairingly.
The fifth trio is the most harmonically and structurally advanced with an introspective opening lento notable for its chromatic abandon. The two central movements, both moderatos, could in turn be considered a serenade suggestive of a scherzo, and a romantic meditation.
The work then ends with an animated allegro. Episodic with frequent sudden fanfare-like riffs, decorative runs of notes, a couple of contrapuntal flashbacks to J.S. Bach's time (1685-1750), and only one brief recurring thematic idea, it could almost pass as the accompaniment to a silent movie. Stylistically speaking, we've definitely come a long way since the first trio.
We owe a great debt to the Edlian trio for bringing us these little-known chamber gems. That said, it must also be noted that while their performances are totally committed, there is some squirrely violin work. However, with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here. Who knows, maybe this album will inspire other more technically accomplished ensembles to record these trios.
A well rounded piano tone and natural sounding strings characterize the recordings. Close miking renders a somewhat compressed soundstage, which is compensated to some extent by a reverberant surrounding venue.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110121)
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