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American Classics - Harbison: Piano Trio No 2, Etc


Release Date: 03/27/2007 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559243   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Harbison
Performer:  Anthea KrestonJason DucklesRieko AizawaJohn Harbison,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Amelia Piano Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



HARBISON Piano Trios: 1 No. 1; No. 2, “Short Stories.” Gatsby Etudes. 2 The Violist’s Notebook: Bk. I; Bk. II. 3 10 Micro-Waltzes. 4 Cucaraccia and Fugue. 5 Cello Suite 6 Rieko Aizawa Read more (pn); 1,2,4 Anthea Kreston (vn, va); 1,3 Jason Duckles (vc); 1,6 Steven Tenenbom (va); 5 Ida Kavafian (va); 5 Anthea Kreston (va); 5 John Harbison (va) 5 NAXOS 8.559243 (70:34)


Naxos’s laudable exploration of the music of John Harbison continues here with a selection of his chamber music, featuring three young players who call themselves the Amelia Piano Trio. Since they divide up for most of the disc, the headnote reflects the individuals, rather than the group. In Fanfare 30:4, I wrote about an excellent, similar Harbison disc that featured the late and great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. No vocal music this time, though.


The longest and most substantial piece is the Second Piano Trio of 2003. The composer’s own booklet notes acknowledge a debt to Haydn, especially in its transparency of scoring. I remain unsure whether Harbison has taken on board much of Haydn’s famous sense of humor, except perhaps in the playfulness of the third movement (entitled, “Rumors and Reports”). But Harbison brings more energy to his jokes than Haydn might. Rieko Aizawa, especially, plays with great athleticism; later, her string colleagues bring great sadness to the opening of the final movement, “Enigma.”


The three Gatsby Etudes reuse material from Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby , and were written as a gift in gratitude for Judith Gordon, repetiteur for the original opera. The composer claims that they are great fun to play, and it would certainly appear that the performer here, Rieko Aizawa, is having a ball. Harbison’s claim that the pieces pursue some of the opera’s trains of thought is easily believable. In a sense, this is like experiencing curiosity in sound.


The 12 pieces of the two books of The Violist’s Notebook can be performed in any order. The work is written in homage to the enigmatic violinist Bartolomeo Campagnoli (1751–1827) and is played here (on viola) by Anthea Kreston. Book II was apparently written in one day. If true, there is no doubting Harbison’s fluency. The work holds the attention well. It is shot through with a certain feeling of regret. A shame the recording for this piece is so close, as it tires the ear after a while.


Ten Micro-Waltzes provides timbral contrast before the program returns to viola. Written for solo piano, this is one of what Harbison calls “tapestry pieces” (a series of very short movements that together add up to more than the sum of their parts). The piece is a delight. Harbison at his simplest is endearing, and the playing here is ravishing. It comes as no great surprise to learn that Aizawa was the last pupil of Horszowski at the Curtis Institute, for her playing has something of Horszowski’s knowing simplicity of expression. The return to viola sonority is brought about by Cucaraccia and Fugue (2003). The fugue theme is extremely lyrical and continues the nostalgic feel of the Notebook . Lovely.


Harbison describes his Cello Suite as both “private” and “compact.” Written in the wake of the Cello Concerto, it explores the Baroque origins of the cello suite, including the use of dance titles for some of the movements. A return to the close miking of The Violist’s Notebook is not particularly welcome, but it is worth persevering. The debt to Bach is both unsurprising and obvious. Jason Duckles makes light of the difficulties (particularly in the second movement, Fuga—Burletta and in the tricky final Giga).


Finally, the Trio of 1968. Harbison describes it as “a work of its time,” referring to nervous contrasts and the use of short motifs. It is far more overtly modernist than anything else on the disc and, to these ears at least, acts as a sort of postprandial palette freshener.


FANFARE: Colin Clarke


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3530541.aa_John_Harbison_Speaks.html

HARBISON Piano Trio No. 2 1. Gatsby Etudes 2. The Violist’s Notebooks 3. Micro-Waltzes 4. Cucaraccia & Fugue. 5 Cello Suite. 6 Piano Trio No. 1 7 Anthea Kreston ( 1,7 vn, 3,5 va); 1,6,7 Jason Duckles (vc); 1,2,4,7 Rieko Aizawa (pn); 5 Steven Tenenbom, 5 Ida Kavafian, 5 John Harbison (va) NAXOS 8.559243 (70:34)


Naxos’s ongoing commitment to American music is heartening, giving the listener tools to get beyond the crude stereotypes that are often applied to this messy subject. The example of John Harbison certainly defies the easy label, shunning the multiple extreme angles many in his generation had adopted, without the dumbed-down posture of some neoromantics. As this disc demonstrates, he approaches his subjects with uncommon skill and sensitivity, mindful of the possibilities of his genres and sensible concerning structure and pace.


The headliner is his second piano trio, a work notable for his skilled use of the strings, a strength I don’t think he is generally given enough credit for. He mentions the influence of Haydn in this work (as opposed to examples in the Mozart-to-Shostakovich pantheon), and while this is true enough, thankfully he doesn’t relegate the cello to left-hand piano doubling in the manner of the Classical master.


The rollicking Gatsby Etudes for piano are conceived much more in the spirit of entertainment and theater, not surprising given the title and its connection to his opera The Great Gatsby. The Violist’s Notebooks (described as compositional studies) and the Cello Suite (composed soon after his cello concerto) are delightful pieces, to these ears bearing the occasional echo of Bach, Brahms, and Britten.


I’m always fascinated and sometimes amused by the early “academic” forays made by certain young composers before they settle into more conservative and listenable idioms. What surprises me most about the spiky, aggressively atonal piano trio from 1968 is that he was a mature 30-year-old at the time, not a 20-year-old determined to please a doctrinaire serialist professor. Yet there is evidence of a composer making strides toward the style we know today. There are melodic fragments that are easy for the ear to grasp, and the composer works through then concisely but thoroughly. The Second Viennese School still held sway with Harbison, most clearly in the economy of expression in the single-movement trio. Most surprisingly it is Webern among the three serialists who seems to have cast the longest shadow.


These are top-rate performances by some of the best players in the business, including the Amelia Trio, violinist Ida Kavafian, and violists Steven Tenenbom and the composer himself in the delightful Cucaraccia and Fugue for two violas. Recording quality is first-rate in every respect. May this collection of composers’ seminal works continue to expand.


FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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Works on This Recording

1. Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 by John Harbison
Performer:  Anthea Kreston (Violin), Jason Duckles (Cello), Rieko Aizawa (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Amelia Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; USA 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 17 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
2. Gatsby Etudes by John Harbison
Performer:  Rieko Aizawa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 8 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
3. The Violist's Notebook, Book 1 by John Harbison
Performer:  Anthea Kreston (Viola)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; USA 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 7 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
4. The Violist's Notebook, Book 2 by John Harbison
Performer:  Anthea Kreston (Viola)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; USA 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 7 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
5. Micro-Waltzes (10) for Piano by John Harbison
Performer:  Rieko Aizawa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2004; USA 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 8 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
6. Cucaraccia and Fugue by John Harbison
Performer:  John Harbison (Viola), Anthea Kreston (Viola), Ida Kavafian (Viola),
Steven Tenenbom (Viola)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; USA 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 4 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
7. Suite for Cello solo by John Harbison
Performer:  Jason Duckles (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; Nervi, Italy 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 8 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 
8. Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 by John Harbison
Performer:  Rieko Aizawa (Piano), Anthea Kreston (Violin), Jason Duckles (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Amelia Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; Portland, Oregon 
Venue:  Connecticut College, New London, Connect 
Length: 7 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Notes: Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut (05/05/2005 - 05/10/2005) 

Sound Samples

Piano Trio No. 2, "Short Stories": I. Tale
Piano Trio No. 2, "Short Stories": II. Ballad
Piano Trio No. 2, "Short Stories": III. Rumors and Reports
Piano Trio No. 2, "Short Stories": IV. Enigma
Gatsby Etudes: No. 1. Parlors
Gatsby Etudes: No. 2. Parties
Gatsby Etudes: No. 3. The Green Light
The Violist's Notebook, Book 1: No. 1. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 1: No. 2. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 1: No. 3. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 1: No. 4. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 1: No. 5. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 1: No. 6. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 2: No. 1. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 2: No. 2. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 2: No. 3. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 2: No. 4. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 2: No. 5. -
The Violist's Notebook, Book 2: No. 6. -
10 Micro-Waltzes
Cuccaracia and Fugue: Cucaraccia
Cuccaracia and Fugue: Fugue
Cello Suite: I. Preludio
Cello Suite: II. Fuga - Burletta
Cello Suite: III. Sarabanda
Cello Suite: IV. Giga
Piano Trio No. 1

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