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Auerbach, Garrop, Higdon, Schwendinger, Read Thomas, Tower

Piano Trios by Notable Women

Auerbach: Piano Trio Op. 28
Garrop: Seven
Higdon: Piano Trio
Schwendinger: C’e la Luna Questa Sera?
Read Thomas Moon Jig
Tower: Trio Cavany

Lincoln Trio, Chicago

Cedille: CDR 90000 126

Here is a chamber music CD from Chicago that deserves the attention of UK piano trios, especially advanced student trios in the Colleges and Conservatoires.

Tastes will vary, & amongst those I liked best was the work by the youngest of these successful USA-based composers, Lera Auerbach, whose first two of its three movements were written soon after she had defected from the Soviet Union at 17. Its three short movements traverse a crescendo of gravity of the material.

Jennifer Higdon bases her two movements on colours as she experiences them. My visual artist wife guessed "pink" and "yellow"; Higdon herself had thought they depicted "pale yellow" and "fiery red" respectively; too many contemporary composers seem to need visual or literary "programmes" for their instrumental music, to help enlist audience attention maybe?

Stacy Garrop's Seven crams seven interlinked movements played continuously into less than a quarter hour, with promptings from Star Wars and a poem Seven of Nine about a poet who "died seven times in seven ways". It was hard to keep track of them.

The same applied, more seriously to the longest and far the most dramatic of these works, Joan Tower's Trio Cavany, its name relating to her sponsors. Highly successful a composer in USA, Tower's Trio would be a good one for UK piano trios to explore, especially those connected with colleges and conservatoires.

Tower deliberately sets music for the full ensemble against opportunities for each instrument to enjoy the spotlight in solo statements along the way. It was supplied with a detailed commentary by Andrea Lamoreaux which, as in the case of Seven, was hard to follow whilst listening minute by minute.

At my suggestion Jim Ginsburg of chicagoclassical.org kindly supplied all the timings, which I append below*. Maybe they'll find their way onto the Cedille and Lincoln Trio websites? This is something that could helpfully be done more often, as many modern CD players display timings as the music proceeds.

Recommended; check out the composers on their websites.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Trio Cavany - - begins with a pianissimo violin statement of the basic three-note motive that will constantly recur, in various registers and rhythms, to unify the work: it drops down one step, then rises by a minor third. The cello also enters (0:43) very high-pitched, and the two strings play in tandem for a while, imitating and echoing each other, until they drop out in favor of an extended, dramatic, and virtuosic piano solo (2:56). The cello then presents a melody derived from the three-note motive (4:06) and is soon rejoined by the violin (4:16). Another lengthy piano passage (5:21) is accompanied by sustained, muted notes from the violin and cello, then rhythmic interest is emphasized in a section of two-against-three patterns (6:28). Double-stops and sixteenth notes become prominent in the string parts as we lead up to a “drammatico” cello solo (8:23) followed by another piano statement (9:03).

The violin gets its solo chance with a virtuosic passage (9:21) that ends with a restatement of the three-note motive. This is followed by a new section, analogous to a slow movement, launched in a mellow 6/4 time (10:36). There’s a sense of distance here, with another high-register cello part and pianissimo chords in the piano. The section grows in dynamic intensity toward reiterated fortissimo piano octaves (12:36). The three-note motive, in cello, then in violin, takes us to a brief piano solo statement (14:48), where the pace momentarily slows down as the composer indicates, “broaden.”

With violin and cello soon rejoining the piano (15:07), we’re led onward to a final section (15:47), announced by repeated dotted rhythms that become insistent ostinatos for all three players. These quickly become powerful fortissimo octaves, first in the piano, then in all three parts, with a return to the two-against-three rhythms (17:05). The violin reaches a high point that is almost a scream (17:59). Syncopated patterns and rapid imitations, another brief piano solo (18:25), and a sudden unison passage bring us to the final measures (18:54), with strong, dissonant chords and a final fortissimo accent.