The Neave Trio bestows upon us three French piano trios that well define late Gallic Romanticism and its capacity for rare colors.

French Moments = ROUSSEL: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 2; DEBUSSY: Piano Trio in G Major; FAURE: Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120 – Neave Trio – Chandos CHAN 10996, 70:08 (6/1/18) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded 19-21 October 2017, the three piano trios offered by the Neave Trio—Anna Williams, violin; Mikhail Vesetov, cello; Eri Nakamura, piano—provide perfect vehicles to justify the etymology of the ensemble’s chosen title, since “Neave” derives from the Gaelic designation for “bright” and “radiant.” Of particular note, the 1902 Piano Trio in E-flat by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) will prove enchanting, given its striking colors and post-Franck harmonic syntax.  The opening movement—Modere, sans lenteur—though establishing a three-note pattern on the home key in a manner that suggests a sunrise, quickly gravitates into the active, chromatic harmony we associate with late French Romanticism. Roussel does demonstrate a melodic gift, occasionally in a martial spirit, and his cello likes to meander in dark hues. The recapitulation of this movement presents the themes in reverse.

The influence of Cesar Franck makes itself felt in the C minor slow movement: Lent – Quasi recitative – Animez peu a peu—beginning with the cello and then violin’s announcing a kind of chant that evolves from short, intervalic progressions into freer gestures by way of the piano’s riffs and runs. The affect of this movement exudes the kind of exotic or perfumed element that marks later Roussel and the paintings of Henri Rousseau. The lengthy finale demands something like fifteen tempo changes, opening with a six-measure Tres lent only to rush into a 9/8 bucolic dance, Vif et gaiment that employs selected canonic treatment and a glowing melody in the violin. Typical of the Franck “school” of thought, Roussel indulges in the “cyclic” reordering of prior themes, assigned to different instruments, in new tempos and in transposed harmony.  The music—sometimes moving via pentatonic scales—builds to some passionate declaration, given the inspiration for the music occurred at Bellaggio, where Roussel and his wife had taken a holiday.  The Neave Trio has imbued this rare chamber work with a sonic luster elegant and refined, the real “find” of this album.

Debussy composed his four-movement Trio in G Major in 1880, a time that Debussy spent “in service” to Nadezhda von Meck, who had been patroness to Tchaikovsky.  Meck needed a pianist to tutor her children while the family toured France and Italy. When Meck acquired the additional services of violinist Wladyslaw Pachulsky and cellist Pyotr Danilchenko, she could insist the three play piano trios nightly. Because Meck eschewed German “heaviness” in music, Debussy composed a trio that exudes lightness and clarity. The first movement, Andantin con moto allegro – Allegro appassionato, enjoys the youthful musician’s melodic gift, set in a style close to Massenet. The melodic lilt of Tchaikovsky himself seems nigh.  When playing solo, the piano has a four-bar-phrase line appropriate for a nocturne, in a spirit close to Schumann or Faure. Something of Leo Delibes informs the second movement, Scherzo: Intermezzo: Moderato con allegro, with its tiptoed pizzicato and balletic gestures. A gently exotic hue emerges, almost a signature for a young Ravel. The Andante espressivo emerges from the cello with piano accompaniment.  The lilting theme, picked up by the violin, and then in concert, assumes a salon intimacy. In a passionate gesture, the two strings intone the melody over bock chords in the keyboard. Then, true to its ternary form, the music subsides into a dreamy nocturne once more, a song without words that intimates the many beauties this composer will unfold later in his career. The most dramatic of the movements, the Finale: Appassionato – Un poco ritenuto, may have Schubert or Beethoven to cite as models, but the atmosphere still—despite crescendos and pedal points—remains relatively light and emotionally uncluttered, swaying in its last pages in a kind of glorified assertion of youthful promise.

The 1923-24 Trio in D minor of Gabriel Faure bespeaks the polished command of his medium that a composer of long experience attains in his constant attempt to balance “fantasy and reason,” as Faure asserts at the conclusion of La Bonne Chanson.  Commentators have oft pointed to the old Faure hearing problems as the source of his penchant for the middle registers. The outer movements of this work combine the sonata-rondo forms, much as Haydn had done more than a century prior. The opening movement, Allegro, ma non troppo, reveals Faure’s melodic fluency within a basically modal syntax. The Neave Trio embrace seamlessly the constantly altering rhythmic contours, since the music evades easy demarcations of exposition and development. The essential permutation evolves from a barcarolle motif that gains fluidity and momentum as the movement progresses.

The central movement, Andantino, projects a marvelous sense of repose, not “fatigue,” as the composer asserted. The musing, improvisatory feeling between the two strings with piano accompaniment yields to a sterner, darker hue, especially when the extended Trio section assumes contrapuntal textures. The violin and the cello depart into octave doublings, but only momentarily. Meditative and solemn, the music leaves us a sense of measured mortality, an incursion into the “yellow leaf” of advancing age and thoughts of waning powers. The last movement, Allegro vivo, further dispels “fatigue” in favor of an “etude” in virtuoso writing, compressing his multifaceted thoughts in to variants on one rhythmic cell, that cast varying moods and textures. The octave doublings from the middle movement Trio at first announce a slow, articulate melody that soon experiences metric disruptions, as if—a la Henri Bergson—time itself suffers a schizoid shift.  The momentum increases in the way that Ravel and Chausson like to create intensity and fiery inevitability. The piano part, manic and voluptuous at once, has made this D minor experience heart-stopping.

—Gary Lemco