Musical Remembrances = Piano Trios by RACHMANINOFF; BRAHMS; RAVEL – Neave Trio – Chandos

by | May 14, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Musical Remembrances = RACHMANINOFF: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor; BRAHMS: Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8; RAVEL: Piano Trio in A Minor – Neave Trio – Chandos CHAN 20167 (3/24/22) 76:56 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Serge Rachmaninoff followed his models Glinka and Tchaikovsky in his approach to chamber music, which Rachmaninoff addressed in the final days of his studies at the Moscow Conservatory (1892). Cast in one uninterrupted movement, this elegy conforms much to the melodic contour of Tchaikovsky’s A Minor Trio, Op. 50, composed in 1882 in memory of Nicholas Rubinstein. Rachmaninoff’s keyboard part (Eri Nakamura), richly expressive and bold in its chords and chromatic, scalar runs, often has solo or cadenza episodes to counter the lyrically persuasive writing for the strings.

Portrait of Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninov

Opening Lento lugubre, the stirring melodic line receives sweeping gestures and poignant, dramatic periods in various colors, especially when the strings (Anna Williams, violin; Mikhail Veselov, cello), muted, accompany the piano in a funeral march. Rachmaninoff manages to combine classical sonata-form and rhapsody (especially in the Appassionato sequence) into one, continuous evolution of affective motion, here executed with seamless ensemble. 

Brahms took up his Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major twice, in its original 1854 version, and again in a drastic revision in 1889. Following Robert Schumann’s example, both in form and content, Brahms made use in his first version’s last movement of a quote from the Beethoven Op. 98 song-cycle, An die ferne Geliebte, which Schumann had embedded into his own C Major Fantasie. For both composers, the ‘distant beloved,’ physically and emotionally, respective to each composer, was Clara Schumann. When the 1889 edition came forward, many of the autobiographical hints has been excised, and only the progression from a bright B Major to a tragic B Minor testifies to the intensity of the Brahms passion for the older woman who obsessed his emotions all his life. The first movement, Allegro con brio – Tranquillo, for the first 23 measures, plays as a gorgeous cello sonata that eventually admits the violin part.  

Portrait of Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms

The second movement, Scherzo, Brahms had left largely untouched in revision. Ominous staccato figures in B Minor sizzle across the mind before the elegance of the Trio’s melody bursts forth – I recall first hearing Feuermann play it on 78 rpm shellacs – and equally alluring here from cellist Veselov, until the reprise of the acerbic outer music, Tempo I. The piano contributes a studied, meditative chorale to initiate the Adagio movement, though the cello will sustain much of the melodic character of the moment. Late in the movement, the right-hand keyboard part realizes ethereal progressions in concert with muted gestures from the strings, all in tearful sympathy.

The last movement confirms the evolution from optimism to turbulent agitation, a type of eccentric, Hungarian waltz interfused with passionate outbursts, especially in the violin part. Granted, the D Major secondary theme carries a bold confidence and assertion, even in the midst of more melancholy thoughts. So, what Brahms and the Neave Trio leave us remains a combination of sun and darkness, brilliantly fashioned into a resounding work of art. 

The creation of Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor (1913-14) reveals little of its dramatic juxtaposition against the outbreak of WW I, to which Ravel wished to contribute, even as a fighter pilot, but was rejected on physical grounds. He agonized over the compulsion to complete his Trio (done by August 29, 1914) and to serve in the armed conflict, finally accomplishing both, finding a war assignment in the motor transport corps.  Ravel incorporates exotic colors – particularly the zortziko, fandango dance rhythm – from his mother’s Basque birthplace into his expansive first movement and the keyboard’s left hand part. This music provides pianist Nakamura’s virtuoso opportunity. After the often four-square impulses from Brahms, the excursion by the Neame Trio among the contours of the Ravel universe feels unworldly.  

Portrait of Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel, 1925

The sense of “distant lands and peoples” (a la Schumann) continues in the second movement Pantoum, taken from traditional Malaysian poetry, which likes to address competing ideas in alternation. Poets Baudelaire and Verlaine found the form appealing, using the second and fourth verses for the first and third verses in the next stanza. Ravel employs a askew rhythmic accents to carry over into the Trio section. Staccato figures play against a chorale motif in the piano, with violinist Williams in piercing sonorities that flash by in kaleidoscopic colors. The cumulative effect parallels what we see in a painting of Henri Rousseau of an exotic jungle, a dream-scape infiltrated with dangers. Ravel builds a passacaglia for his third movement, a set of variants derived from the piano’s left hand bass chords. We hear resolute bell-tones from Nakamura, building steadily to a climax worthy – indeed allusive – to the “Spear” motif in Wagner’s Parsifal, a dark hint of the cataclysm engulfing humanity? The last pages return to the melancholy established by the cello and keyboard. The last movement’s penchant for metric dazzle, alternating five and seven beats in a bar, create a mixture of reminiscence – of the first movement inverted – and militant optimism. Ravel’s (Basque) colorations include violin arpeggios in harmonics, double tremolos in the cello, and muted piano chords, all of which move with blazing energy to a grand peroration. Ravel claimed that he had worked on the Trio “with the sureness and lucidity of a madman,” the remark made just after the declaration of war. But surely, Ravel’s madness is more beautiful than all the “logic” that justified the holocaust about to consume humanity.

This recording comes highly recommended.

—Gary Lemco  

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