PIERNE: Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 45; FAURE: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 120 – Trio Wanderer – Harmonia mundi HMC 902192, 57:35 (11/11/14) ****:
At the instigation of Jacques Durand, composer Gabriel Faure in 1923 embarked upon writing a piano trio despite his feeling the fatigue perpetuelle of advanced age. Though Faure missed the premiere performance on 12 May 1923, he did attend that given by the trio of Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, and Alfred Cortot on 29 June 1923. The Piano Trio in C Minor by Gabriel Pierne received its Paris premiere in Paris on 11 February 1922 from cellist Gerard Hekking, violinist Georges Enescu, and Pierne at the keyboard.
The present recording (February 2014) by Trio Wanderer – Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabedian, violin; Raphael Pidoux, cello; Vincent Coq, piano – immediately projects us into the rare mystique of organist-conductor Gabriel Pierne (1863-1937) whose D Minor Piano Trio is quite contemporary with that of Faure: thick, often dense polyphony; dark hues, angular modalities, and a fervent if restrained passion that owes much to the “symphonic” scale and cyclic architecture of Cesar Franck’s chamber music oeuvre. A resonant ostinato in the keyboard part right hand lays a groundwork for the often poignantly nostalgic cast of the melodic writing, especially in a section of the expansive first movement marked Calmato. The individual strings will pair with the keyboard then progress to the trio ensemble. The cello part certainly indulges the lyric prowess of Raphael Pidoux, while the serpentine progressions from pianist Coq invest a dark menace into even the bucolic moments.
The more impulsive Allegretto scherzando reveals an experimental side to Pierne’s fertile imagination, the music’s moving in 8/8, subdivided into beats of three and five, presumably along Spanish or Basque models. While the Spanish flavor dominates, we may discern nods to Saint-Saens and Ravel as compatriots who exploited Iberian and Moorish colors, not to mention Chabrier. The zortzico impulse remains eminently dance-like, and the violin part seems apt to imitate the glossy, sliding folk dynamics of Sarasate. The last movement, Moderement lent, reveals a theme and variations along Franckian lines. The color of the original theme alternates dark and bright colors, moving with accelerating tempos into distinct instrumental hues, like violin harmonics. The writing often becomes dense, and we wonder if Franck’s F Minor Piano Quintet has been the unnamed predecessor, although the more sprightly dances echo Ravel. When Coq’s piano must play thirty-second notes, Allegro, we sense the kind of dazzling virtuosity Pierne could call upon when his invention demanded it. The slightly askew harmony of the potent coda warrants re-hearing.
Both simplicity and classical repose suffuse late Faure, elements Frank Lloyd Wright declared as necessary to works of genius. The opening Allegro, ma non troppo maintains a bit of uneasy nostalgia make us enamored of the harmonically audacious proceedings, attuned as we become to the mezzo-piano and occasionally sotto voce dynamics. The chaste polyphony broadens periodically into lush chromatic harmony, modal and grounded by the keyboard’s right hand ostinato patterns. The movement ends with a sense of hearty exhilaration. The Andantino builds upon two principal ideas, the first supple over distinct parlando figures in the keyboard; the second, cantando espressivo, advances in modal contour much like the Op. 111 Fantasie. The alteration of conjunct versus syncopated rhythmic impulses maintains our fascination with Faure’s imaginative coloration, especially when he inverts the scoring of the opening melodic line. The felicity of the Trio Wanderer’s ensemble in this movement, the heart of the Faure Trio, justifies the price of admission. As anomalous as anything in Faure, the last movement, Allegro vivo, in 3/8, synthesizes two polar impulses: a four-square idea, fortissimo, that sounds a bit like Leoncavallo’s “Ridi, Pagliacci,” and a bouncy tune that intensifies into a peasant impulse on the order of Bulgarian rhythm. The playful element has its foil in strident outpourings that suggest Faure’s hearing “time-winged chariot hurrying near.” Even the D Major coda’s splash does not dispel the fatality that has hovered in the air.