“Diamonds in a Haystack” = ARNO BABAJANIAN: Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor; JEAN FRANCAIX: Trio; PAUL SCHOENFIELD: Café Music –Trio Solis – MSR Classics

by | Jul 19, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

“Diamonds in a Haystack” = ARNO BABAJANIAN: Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor; JEAN FRANCAIX: Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano; PAUL SCHOENFIELD: Café Music –Trio Solis – MSR Classics MS 1418 [Distr. by Albany], 56:25 *****:
This is a very appealing program of disparate works for piano trio from the twentieth century. Probably only the still-young twenty-first century will prove more culturally fragmented than the twentieth, but then we have to remember that critics, observing the evolution of Stravinsky’s style, commented that he embraced so many musical trends in such rapid order they wondered where he would land next. So it was in the restive world of twentieth-century music.
Here, for your consideration, are three very different representatives of that fractured culture. Arno Babajanian is, as his name immediately suggests, an Armenian composer, one of fairly conservative instincts. His Trio of 1952 sounds in spots like Rachmaninoff meets Khachaturian, and Babajanian seems unable to decide on which influence he favors most. The first movement, marked Largo-Allegro espressivo, has a Romantic-era yearning about it that recalls Rachmaninoff of the Trios élégiacs. The second movement Andante offers more robust pesante music that recalls Babajanian’s native land, though the middle section seems to take us back to the perfumed world of earlier Rachmaninoff. The most individual music comes in the unbridled Allegro vivace finale. Compared to Babajanian’s compatriot Khachaturian, much of the music is tame and backward-looking, but is attractive nonetheless, worth a visit and a return visit or two.
Francaix’s Trio, a late work (1986), takes some of the edges of the French composer’s earlier neo-Classical style. This work is all about French suavity and sophistication; it does not disappoint. It’s playful, mercurial in the manner of Les Six, but with a structural and rhythmic waywardness that suggests this is a fanciful, almost dreamlike appreciation of an earlier aesthetic.
That’s certainly true of Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, a loving tribute to the salon orchestras of the early twentieth century (a tradition carried on apparently in certain enclaves with which I’m not familiar). Schofield writes: “The idea for Café Music came to me in 1985 after sitting in on night for the pianist at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis. Murray’s employs a house trio which plays entertaining dinner music, in a wide variety of styles. . . . The music draws on many of the types of music. For example, early twentieth-century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are represented.” So expect a mash-up of styles, a quite entertaining one. Since its debut in 1987, Schoenfield’s Café Music has garnered a lot of attention and appears on a number of recordings by younger, hipper music ensembles such as the Eroica Trio. I doubt they treat the piece more lovingly or fervently than does Trio Solis. In any event, Trio Solis (Corinne Stillwell, violin; Gregory Sauer, cello; and Read Gainsford, piano) gets my vote for imaginative programming, as well as impassioned, totally committed playing. MSR’s typically fine sonics seal the deal for me. This is a keeper!
—Lee Passarella

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