Classical Reissue Reviews

GRECHANINOV: Piano Trios — No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 38; No. 2 in G Major; Cello Sonata in E Minor – The Moscow Rachmaninov Trio – Helios

The reissue of the Grechaninov chamber music from 2002 still invests a relatively obscure body of work with undeniably melodious and spirited power.

Published on April 21, 2013

GRECHANINOV: Piano Trios  — No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 38; No. 2 in G Major; Cello Sonata in E Minor – The Moscow Rachmaninov Trio – Helios

GRECHANINOV: Piano Trios  — No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 38; No. 2 in G Major, Op. 128; Cello Sonata in E Minor, Op. 113 – The Moscow Rachmaninov Trio – Helios CDH55399, 64:56 [Distr.  by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Assessments of the music of Aleksander Grechaninov (1864-1956) most often mention his contribution to Russian liturgical music to the exclusion of his chamber music. A composition student of Safanov, Arensky, and Taneyev, Grechaninov remained within the Tchaikovsky circle of musical acquaintances, even to the point of having Rimsky-Korsakov as an instructor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The chamber music he created conforms to traditional classical structure, and the melodic content combines aspects of Russian nationalism as cross-fertilized by the music of Chopin.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor (1906) is dedicated to Taneyev, opening with an urgent Allegro passionato in a fiery style close to Tchaikovsky’s. The secondary lyrical theme moves to the relative major of E-flat, its melodic interest carried by the violin (Mikhail Tsinman) and supported by the ardent cello (Natalia Savinova) and rather virtuosic piano part (Viktor Yampolsky). Tsinman and Savinova combine for a lovely duet, Lento assai, for the opening of the second movement, an inspired song over a strummed or arpeggiated piano accompaniment. The music assumes a nightclub character, if we imagine Rachmaninov were supplying torch-songs. Some Schubertian modulations ensue, the music’s migrating from A-flat Major to D-flat Major before reversing polarity. Late in the movement cellist Savinova intones a haunted song of lyrical power which the violin extends, its affect close to Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart.” The repeated riffs towards the close suggest Schumann’s influence. The last movement, Allegro e vivace, opens with a Russian-oriental melody we might attribute to Glinka or Mussorgsky, but the indubitable influence of Rachmaninov’s C Minor Piano Concerto asserts itself, and so a sense of formulaic derivativeness settles on this otherwise energetic and colorful music. Pianist Yampolsky certainly takes advantage of his part to exhibit a real capacity to perform the big concertos cast in the same fires as the pieces Grechaninov cites in passing.

The 1927 Cello Sonata opens- Maestoso – with a melody so close to Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” from his Carnival of the Animals that we wonder if we are hearing a transcription for piano trio. While the melody does go its own way, the next series of rustling agitato moves copy both Rachmaninov and Faure.  The tonality of the first movement keeps shifting between modes of E, major and minor. In a heaving B-flat Major, the second movement, Menuetto tragico, proceeds in staggered motion with a veil of gloom predominant. Most of the time, we feel as if the composer – like Rachmaninov – were toying with portions of the Dies irae. Another passionate gesture hurtles us along, momentarily, then the minuet resumes, truculent and moody, propelling us directly into the last movement via a cello cadenza. We awake in E Major, the piano’s running a series of choppy riffs the cello imitates. A Chopin nocturne for piano trio emerges, though the motor rhythm reminds us of Schubert’s various songs about water, touched by the modal harmony of Gabriel Faure. The music reverts to E Minor with the filigree we recall from the middle of the Rachmaninov E Minor Symphony’s second movement. Despite the frequent allusions to others’ pieces, the music via Savinova and Yampolsky generates enough visceral sympathy that we can appreciate the composer’s colors and invention on their own terms.

Like the Cello Sonata, the Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major (1930) results from Grechaninov’s Paris experience. The opening Allegro invokes a tussle between G Major and G Minor, often opting for a modal compromise. The keyboard writing has gained a bolder sense of color than we felt in the First Trio. If the rhythmic energy has taken some of Prokofiev’s influence via the Paris environs, the music remains accessible and classically predictable. The piano colors from Yampolsky exert a bright, jaunty, cosmopolitan assurance. The Intermezzo second movement casts a dreamy haze through the violin part, beginning in E-flat Major but still tempted by the G Minor of the first movement Allegro. The textures enjoy a tender balance, occasionally becoming ironic in the manner of Shostakovich. The Finale, a brisk moto perpetuo “hunt” motif, wants to resolve into G Major, but its choppy development urges G-flat. The askew angularity of the progressions remind us of Medtner or a more modal Schumann, the “hunting” idea having become musing through Tsinman’s sultry violin. The opening impulse resumes, often reminiscent of elements in the Brahms Horn Trio, the keyboard quite active in gallops from Yampolsky. Suddenly Savinova’s cello sings out in fragments, but the spectacle belongs to the keyboard. The last pages busy and rife with stretti, transform the hunt into a quasi-chorale in hectic figures.

The original issue from Hyperion (rec. October-November 2000) comes back to us in vivid sound, courtesy of engineer Alexander Volkov.

—Gary Lemco

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