SAINT-SAENS: Piano Trio No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18; Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 92 – Aquinas Piano Trio – Guild GMCD 7408, 61:08 (7/15/14) [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The F Major Piano Trio by Camille Saint-Saens (1863) represents the first of its genre in the Gallic chamber music repertory to avoid the heavily imitative trend of Franck and his disciples to imitate Schumann and the grand master, Beethoven. A product of the composer’s sojourn to the Pyrenees Mountains, the entire work basks in an open-air freshness, its first movement rocking luxuriantly between duple and triple meter. The piano part (Martin Cousin) exploits the composer’s innate virtuosity at the keyboard, while the two stringed instruments (Ruth Rogers, violin; Katherine Jenkinson, cello) each ply a Guarnerius instrument with decidedly lush tonal qualities.
The second movement of Trio No. 1, in A Minor, Andante, opens with a drone effect endemic to highland music, here a tune lifted from Auvergne environs. This expansive song unfolds in seamless melody, quite gratifying for the strings, whose combined harmony assumes soaring, “symphonic” proportions. A middle section takes on one of those “exotic” sonorities we associate with the “Egyptian” Piano Concerto, while Cousin’s piano churns out liquid arpeggios. The ensuing Scherzo: Presto does seem to attend to Beethoven models, urging a one-in-a-bar plastic urgency, whose gossamer textures recall the Beethoven Sixth Symphony and the Archduke Trio. The last movement Allegro falls into two sections, of which the first has the strings in spacious intervals over piano undulations. The figures past bar 40 become more declamatory; then, Saint-Saens employs his gift for melodic counterpoint in a kind of double rondo. The music has become diaphanous, more in the manner of chromatic Mendelssohn, as it finds a gruff companion in the declamatory figures. Molto allegro, the coda rather shoots out of a gun to an impetuous conclusion.
The expansive, five-movement Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor (1892) immediately indicates that the world of Faure and D’Indy has touched it. Again, whatever exotic turns the music offers may be traced to the composer’s love for Algeria and its climes. The composer’s knack of passing the long, serpentine melody among the three instruments successively may reflect some Mediterranean urge. The Allegro non troppo follows the Schubert and Liszt principle of through-composition, the woven tapestry of the music’s having been derived out of its opening kernels. Quite a potent keyboard part marks this movement.
For dramatic relief, Saint-Saens crafts an airy Allegretto that exploits metric variety much as does Chopin. Set as a divertissement in 5/8 time, the music suggests Faure; but in a typical Saint-Saens’ bravura procedure, the pulse shifts ever more quickly to 5/4, with added beauty of Jenkinson’s cello. Cousin moves like a dragonfly across rippling arpeggios. The central Andante con moto reverts to the French love of Schumann, especially an ingenuous tune, song-without-words, from Kinderszenen. Ruth Rogers’ violin sings in full voice against her counterparts. What then follows, Grazioso, poco allegro, proves to be a waltz, rather flowery and metrically alert. Cousin opens the Allegro last movement in dark octaves that soon signify the composer’s wish to move from dark to light. The urge – no less common to Schumann – to counterpoint proves irresistible to Saint-Saens, who turns his rondo into a dazzling display piece both for the ear and the mind.
The recording – from Wyastone Concert Hall, 22-23 February 2013 (Op. 18) and Old Granary Studio, Norfolk, 26-27 September 2008 (Op. 92) has the benefit of Recording Engineer Simon Eadon to ensure our musical pleasure.