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The Piano Tuner - Piano Trios From Scotland

Fidelio Trio
Release Date: 04/12/2011 
Label:  Delphian   Catalog #: 34084   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sally BeamishJudith WeirNigel Osborne
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fidelio Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEAMISH The Seafarer Trio 1. WEIR Piano Trio No. 2. OSBORNE The Piano Tuner Fidelio Trio; 1 Alexander McCall Smith (nar) DELPHIAN 34084 (57:24 Text and Translation)

The title of this album, The Piano Tuner , Read more comes from Nigel Osborne’s eponymous opera, which in turn is based on the 2002 novel by Daniel Mason. I haven’t read the book or heard the opera, but Osborne (b.1956) has derived material from his opera to give us a 14-minute piano trio in eight short movements. Given their brevity, it might be more instructive to call them tableaux or scene settings rather than movements. If there’s any hint of a piano being tuned, it’s only in the first piece, appropriately titled “Tuning,” in which long-held low bass notes might evoke in impressionable minds images of tuning forks being struck. The remaining pieces, in neither title nor musical content, seem related to the subject, at least not in any way that’s discernible to the ear. Five of the eight pieces are formally designated as fugues, but with fanciful titles such as “Seabird,” “Dragonfly,” and “Tiger,” they take on extramusical personalities. Osborne’s vocabulary is very modernistic, not entirely dissimilar from that of his Scottish compatriot James MacMillan (b.1959), but I find Osborne’s music a bit more enjoyable, or at least entertaining, because it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Much of The Piano Tuner is rather playful and quite delightful.

Sally Beamish (b.1956) was born in London but calls Scotland home. Her work titled The Seafarer, for voice and piano trio, is the centerpiece in a triptych, the first being for solo violin and the third being a viola concerto. All three works draw their inspiration from the Anglo-Saxon translation by Charles Harrison Wallace of a 10th-century poem of the same title found in the Exeter Cathedral library. The poem is haunting and deeply moving; its stark imagery pitting the seaman against the sea is a timeless metaphor for the unbreakable human spirit struggling against the indomitable forces of nature.

Even absent their musical setting, the power of the words to evoke images and emotions is riveting. There is such richness in the language one can only imagine what it must have sounded like in the original Old English. Lines like “I toiled distraught, for days on end enduring cares and bitter bale within my breast, my keel cleaving endless halls of heaving waves,” curl and coil around ears in Wallace’s highly alliterative translation. Beamish’s musical setting is equally spellbinding—cold and chilling when “Hail scoured my skin, and hoar hung heavy”—comforting and consoling when “Our travail here will lead us to the living well-head and heaven haven of our Lord’s love.”

There are of course other dramatic and moving works that set an English narration against a musical backdrop; Copland’s Lincoln Portrait and Strauss’s Enoch Arden come to mind, but Sally Beamish may just have outdone them all with this absolutely mesmerizing 2000 work commissioned for Summer on the Peninsula with support from Boydell & Brewer Ltd. This is its premiere recording, as too are Osborne’s and Weir’s works on this disc. The third panel in Beamish’s triptych, the viola concerto, was recorded elsewhere by its dedicatee, Tabea Zimmermann.

Cambridge-born Judith Weir (b.1954) also has Scottish roots, which she often draws upon in her music. A student of John Tavener and Robin Holloway, Weir has adopted a musical vocabulary and syntax that might be described as a bit more conservative and immediately accessible than those of either Beamish or Osborne. A possible explanation is that she has written extensively for the stage, including three full-length operas and an opera for television, vehicles that usually demand a modicum of comprehensibility if they’re to receive a second performance.

Weir’s Piano Trio No. 2 on the present disc was written in 2003–04. Not unlike Beamish’s work, it draws its inspiration from a literary source, in this case a collection of Zen stories. The trio’s three movements are respectively titled “How Grass and Trees Become Enlightened,” “Your Light may go Out,” and “Open Your own Treasure House.”

Weir describes each movement as follows: “’How Grass and Trees become Enlightened’ presents a series of extreme contrasts between high and low, loud and soft. The musical material is one of my own original songs, written to an African text, which in this version has started to sprout energetic vegetation. In ‘Your Light May Go Out,’ the violin and cello, very closely intertwined, begin by presenting a dark musical line imprinted with the ghostly image of an English folk tune. The piano, playing chords, adds ever-increasing illumination to the music, until the end, where darkness and brightness meet. ‘Open Your own Treasure House’ is a joyous dance, built on a scale pattern of my own invention; an imaginary raga, perhaps.”

There’s not much to add to this, other than to say that Weir’s trio is very listener friendly and quite arresting in its use of instrumental colors and rhythmic invention. All three works on this CD are welcome additions to the piano trio literature, with the Beamish, in particular, being an unforgettable experience. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

The Seafarer Trio, for piano trio by Sally Beamish
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fidelio Trio
Venue:  Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinbur 
Length: 28 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Piano Trio No. 2 by Judith Weir
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fidelio Trio
Venue:  Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinbur 
Length: 14 Minutes 7 Secs. 
The Piano Tuner, for piano trio by Nigel Osborne
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fidelio Trio
Venue:  Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinbur 
Length: 12 Minutes 48 Secs. 

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