Neave Trio – Rooted – Chandos

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ROOTED = SMETANA: Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15; COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: Five Negro Melodies from Op. 59; SUK: Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 2; MARTIN: Trio – Neave Trio – CHANDOS CHAN 20272 (56:04) [7/5/24] {Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Recorded 8-10 May 2023, these four chamber works explore music of a definitive national identity, with two of the pieces, those by Smetana (1824-1884) and Suk (1874-1935), expressive of the Czech spirit, while Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) and Martin (1890-1974), respectively, embrace the British approach to an African heritage and the Swiss notion of a cosmopolitan style. The members of the ensemble – Anna Williams, violin; Mikhail Veselov, cello; Eri Nakamura, piano – brandish their considerable skills in the service of otherwise neglected composers and scores, with astonishing brilliance in their recorded sound, courtesy of Recording Producer Jonathan Cooper. 

The recital opens with Bedrich Smetana’s powerful Piano Trio in G Minor (1855; rev. 1857), an elegy in response to the death of a beloved daughter, Bedriska (1851-1855), from scarlet fever. A funeral march will sound in the final movement. Violinist Anna Williams has pride of place, with her seven bars of chromatic, solo music in low register, Moderato assai, that introduce the main theme. The theme becomes a kind of idée fixe, an expression of tragic expressivity that finds relief in the secondary tune, introduced by cello and piano at measure 48. The second movement, marked Più Animato, exploits this motif. The Neave exhibit wonderful finesse in the elaboration and development, of which the Tempo Rubato episode allows them rhythmic freedom. 

The second movement would appear to take its cue from Robert Schumann, a hybrid scherzo with two trios, which Smetana terms Alternativo I and II. The cello and piano initiate the proceedings, Allegro ma non agitato in G minor, The busy music manages to outline the first movement’s opening material, then moving, espressivo, in the first, rather genial Alternativo. Whether this nostalgia recalls blissful memories of Smetana’s deceased child remains a likely speculation. The second, rhythmically engaging Alternativo immediately provides a contrast in assertive dynamics, its choral texture an anticipation of the funereal dirge of movement three. The music here concludes with one more chromatic allusion, con dolore, to movement one, now in the tonic major,

The tenor of the last movement, Finale – Presto, with eight tempo shifts, makes for a virtuoso, rhapsodic impression, colored by vigorous determinism and tragic awareness. The 6/8 metric confronts duple and triple impulses, with violin and cello supporting an active keyboard. Smetana proceeds by a series of variations in the metric pulse, with the piano’s effecting a cadenza in the midst of Più Mosso developments and transitions. When Nakamura institutes block chords for the first theme, the music transforms into the brief funeral march, 2/4 and 6/8, that clearly celebrates Smetana’s daughter. The secondary tune does emerge in the major mode, but the eerie texture compromises any sense of victory as Pyrrhic. 

Despite his British and Sierra Leone ancestry, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor developed a reputation for musically developing folk and native impulses from the United States, of which his 1905 arrangements of Twenty-Four Negro Melodies for solo piano he rescored for piano trio. Coleridge-Taylor set African-American “jubilee” and “plantation” songs in affecting textures, such as the first, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” whose modal shifts find the cello in high register while piano and violin intone the lilting, melancholy tune. The cello takes the lead in “I was way down a-yonder,” a Negro plantation song whose finale is marked by grand exclamation prior to the gentle coda. “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel” rather sizzles in this truncated version, Allegro molto, enjoying long lyrical lines in the violin over pungent piano chords. “They will not lend me a child” serves as an extended slow movement, its African source providing the composer a rich textural mix, modal and eminently affecting in the violin and piano parts. “My Lord delivered Daniel” concludes the suite energetically, Allegro moltoPiù mosso, with striking accents from violin and slides from the cello over a tinkling keyboard. That the scoring often rings with echoes of Dvorak seems not coincidental.

Father-in-law Antonin Dvorak once described the music of Josef Suk as “music from heaven,” although the 1889 (rev. 1891) Piano Trio in C Minor has its earthy moments. A product of Prague Conservatory studies with Karl Stecker, the Trio had its premiere as part of student compositions. Upon publication in 1907 by Urbanek, the title Petit was added so that prospective purchasers would not expect a magnum opus. The opening movement moves through seven tempo changes, mostly lyrical in content, the cello’s enjoying much of the arioso expression, before the movement modulates for a major mode coda. The second movement, Andante – Adagio, posits a catchy rhythmic impulse, half waltz, half habanera, alternating between serene intimacy and grandiose declamation. The last movement, Vivace, asserts the first tune via the strings, a melody rather intricate in its sudden bursts of percussive dynamics. The secondary theme, while allowing some dissonance, pays homage to Dvorak’s concept of melodic invention. Violin Anna Williams has her work cut out for her, while the keyboard no less exerts a primal drive to the development. A move to a high register, with a rhythmic impulse from the ubiquitous Beethoven Fifth, asserts the sense of final resolve. 

Swiss composer Frank Martin has bequeathed us a varied, fascinating musical legacy, a combination of the sacred and the profane, with influences from Medieval Romance and the folk energies of Ireland and India. In this regard, Martin resembles Gustav Holst, no less an explorer into history and regional modes of expression. Composed in 1925, the Trio sur des mélodies populaires irlandaisies, gestated in France. Martin arranges ten traditional Irish melodies into a three-movement fantasia of deft invention. While the melodies remain intact, their rhythmic character receives Martin’s singular manipulation. The Neave Trio achieves a real, countrified sonority, often modal and eccentric harmonically. Both accelerando and crescendo in its course, the first movement makes a startling impression. The solo cello begins the haunted second movement, Adagio, that soon, via the keyboard and later the violin, evolves through nine tempo alterations, attains some compelling, lyrical ornamentation. The last movement offers a vivacious Gigue, wherein the violin’s main theme will soon be accompanied, even overwhelmed, by melodic and rhythmic kernels that collectively score an unbridled sense of folk wisdom. The piano sounds as if it were played by the likes of Barry Fitzgerald!

–Gary Lemco

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