Notes and Editorial Reviews
NAXOS 8.572647 (53: 36)
This delightful disc contains three piano trios by 20th-century Catalan composers. The earliest, from 1918, is by Roberto Gerhard, who is not remotely recognizable as the composer who relocated to England and wrote avant-garde works in the 1960s like the Third and Fourth
Symphonies, the Concerto for Orchestra, and
Fauré and Debussy are the primary influences in his trio: Fauré in the sinuous, barcarolle-like second movement, and Debussy in the third. The latter’s pizzicato opening is uncannily similar to the theme of the scherzo movement in Debussy’s String Quartet. An elegant antique strain in the first movement suggests the young Gerhard’s studies with the Spanish musicologist Felipe Pedrell. A Catalan warmth pervades all three movements, but is most overt in the finale. Although this work precedes Gerhard’s studies with Schoenberg and his subsequent move into modernism, it shows the high degree of craftsmanship that never deserted him. Gerhard’s writing is beautifully balanced for the sometimes awkward combination of violin, cello, and piano. (A second trio, composed the same year, substitutes clarinet for cello.)
Gaspar Cassadó (1897–1966) was famed as a cellist. He wrote few substantial compositions; his output consists mainly of cello arrangements of other music. His Piano Trio is one of his most significant works (along with three string quartets) and dates from 1926–29. Musically it resembles the extrovert Spanish style of Turina, and is a worthy example to stand alongside the latter’s piano trios.
Xavier Montsalvatge (1912–2002) was of the next generation but his Piano Trio is a world apart from the other two. It came toward the end of the composer’s lengthy working life. Montsalvatge was commissioned to write the work in 1988; into its three short movements he incorporated music written two years prior as a tribute to the equally long-lived Catalan composer Federico Mompou. Montsalvatge’s textures are spare, much less fulsome than the sound pictures created by Gerhard and Cassadó. As in all his late works, the harmony is spiced with discordant intervals. Much use is made of harmonics in both string parts, while the piano part is more elaborate, possibly in homage to Mompou, whose entire output was centred on the piano. The sharply rhythmic third movement forms a bracing conclusion to an interesting piece. Albert Ferrer Flamarich in his sleeve note states that “the work as a whole is a little uneven,” but I find it perfectly satisfying. It is simply unconventional in structure. It certainly makes a fine contrast as the centerpiece to this fascinating program, sensitively played by the Arriaga Trio (particularly pianist Daniel Ligorio) and warmly recorded by Naxos.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
A while back Naxos issued a superb Jordi Masó piano recital called the Catalan Piano Album. This might as well be the Catalan Piano Trio Album, since it brings together three composers from the region: Roberto Gerhard, who was a disciple first of Falla and Fauré and later of Schoenberg; Xavier Montsalvatge, a master of eclecticism fluent in many styles; and the more romantic cellist-composer Gaspar Cassadó. It’s not quite an hour in length, but the music here is all well worth a listen and the adventurous ear will be rewarded (if not quite as richly as on the piano album).
Roberto Gerhard’s Piano Trio No. 1 dates from early in his career, 1918, when he was still under the influence of the French impressionists. So strong was his loyalty to them at the time that he actually gave the movements French titles (e.g. a vif finale). And they do sometimes feel French, notably at the beginning of the finale, where the main theme will sound very familiar to anyone who knows Ravel’s string quartet. Mostly, though, one is impressed by the relaxed tunefulness of the music but frustrated when it occasionally feels a little too relaxed. The slow movement, songlike and flowing, is the highlight.
Montsalvatge’s Piano Trio, from 1986-88, could be fairly accused of cheating. It is the product of two separate commissioned works which the composer yoked together for publication, and even the booklet note sighs that its movements do not really fit together. There is an aloof song for Dulcinea (of Don Quijote fame), a spare, eloquent homage to Federico Mompou, and a final ritornello-style movement with a brief outbreak of traditional Spanish dance material.
Gaspar Cassadó’s trio is more explicitly ethnically Spanish from the very first chords, and it should be an easy sell to any listener who enjoys their Albéniz, Falla, or Rodrigo. It appeared on a recital album last year from the Devich Trio, coupled with more outright nationalistic works in the same vein by Turina, Granados, and Arbós. The Devich Trio’s approach to Cassadó was much slower, more romantic, and more emotionally luscious, and I retain a soft spot for it. The Trio Arriaga seems a little colder and more “objective” here and in the Gerhard.
The Trio Arriaga are able to adapt themselves well to the styles of Gerhard and Montsalvatge, though, and technically leave nothing to be desired, although I think the engineering makes violinist Felipe Rodríguez sound more strident than he must be in concert. As I said, this is a fine sampler for the adventurous (tapas?). Those who like their Spanish piano trios to be more overtly “Spanish” in character should start with the Devich, but the variety here is rewarding too.
-- Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello by Roberto Gerhard
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1918; Spain
Trio for Piano and Strings by Xavier Montsalvatge
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1986-1988; Spain
Trio for Piano and Strings in C major by Gaspar Cassadó
Period: 20th Century
Written: by 1926; Spain
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A Real Pleasure August 5, 2012
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"This disk presents piano trios by 3 20th century Spanish (Catalan) composers. I found them to be excellent pieces and well worth investigating. The Arriaga Trio plays all works here with passion and dedication, and Naxos engineering is very high quality. Recommended."