Thursday 19 February 2015

gone into night are all the eyes - Trio Appassionata

Trio Appassionata - Odradek Records
Kotcheff, Moe, Kirchner, Ives; Trio Appassionata; Odarek Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 11 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Modern piano trios, from Ives through to a new commission in a sequence of well wrought pieces.

Trio Appassionata is a group formed in 2007 at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore with performers from the USA, Spain and Brazil (Lydia Chernicoff, violin, Andrea Casarubios, cello, and Ronaldo Rolim, piano). The group's repertoire generally encompasses the great 18th and 19th century piano trios but on this disc on Odradek records the group explores 20th and 21st century American composers in a programme which takes us from the Piano Trio by Charles Ives (first completed in 1911), through Leon Kirchner's Piano Trio (written in 1954), and Eric Moe's We Happy Few (written in 1990) to the new commission gone into night are all the eyes by Thomas Kotcheff (written in 2013).

The disc starts with Thomas Kotcheff's gone into the night are all the eyes, which is receiving its premiere recording. California-based Kotcheff (born 1988) studied at the Peabody Conservatory with the members of Trio Apassionata. His trio takes its title from the first line of a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, from the collection Poems of the Night, though Kotcheff does not intend the piece to be dark or melancholy and it often explores the treble register of the instruments. Kotcheff is interested in the fleeting and the transient, and the opening movement is marked evanescent. This movement is spare, the musical material made up of short motifs and a great deal of use made of silence  The constructing is concentrated and taut, and though the musical material is tonal the result is something edgy and slightly uncomfortable. The second movement, volatile, is also spare and taut with scurrying figures interrupted by harsh dissonance, mitigated by the delicate textures and high tessitura so the result is something highly fleeting. The final movement, stark, is the longest (as long as the other two put together) and it sees a change in texture with long intense lines. It is a slow, considered movement; still taut and spare, but rather dark too. Throughout the trio I was struck by hints of some of Bartok's night music.

Trio Appassionata
Trio Appassionata
The final three works on the disc, by Moe, Kirchner and Ives, have an intriguing (and accidental) link. Ives died in 1954, Moe was born that year and Kirchner wrote his trio 1954 too.

Eric Moe's We Happy Few was written in 1990 for the Washington Square Music Society. To an Englishman the title evokes memories of wartime films, but in fact refers to what the composer calls 'the paradoxical artistic economics of chamber music where less is more'. The composer hints that the closing lines of Keats' Ode to Melancholy may offer an indicator to the work's mood:

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
     And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
     Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
     Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
          Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
     Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
          And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

It is in one long movement cast in the form of a lively dialogue between instruments with a certain spareness in the writing. There are jazz-hints particularly in the rhythms, whilst the textures and harmonies are spiky. Throughout there is a sense of dialectic, of well wrought argument with a fine feel of interaction and dialogue between the instruments. All builds to a strongly dramatic and rather edgy climax but then evaporates at the end. The composers refers to the ending as 'becalmed', calling it a 'happy-tragic' conclusion.

Moe studied at Princeton and Berkeley and is Professor of Composition at the University of Pittsburgh.

Leon Kirchner (1919 - 2009) was one of Schoenberg's foremost American pupils and is perhaps the stylistically most European of the composers on the disc. The music of Hindemith, Bartok and Stravinsky was a great influence on him, though he embraced the aesthetics of the Second Viennese Schools. His Piano Trio of 1954 was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. It is written in two nicely balanced movements, Marcato and Largo. The opening movement introduces us to a world which is carefully constructed and richly complex. You are aware of a highly wrought structure, and a lot of Kirchner's writing here concentrates on the strings. The work in fact uses a limited amount of thematic material with the slow introduction to the opening movement setting out the basic themes for the work. Kirchner's knack is to develop this in a highly organised yet undogmatic way so that we can appreciate the well wrought structure without noticing the mechanics. The second movement is not dissimilar in texture to the first, but slower and here presenting an intense concentrated musical argument. The melodic material his highly expressionist in outline and there are some lovely quirky developments musical material.

Charles Ives' Piano Trio was started in 1904 and first completed in 1911. It was subsequently revised and not performed until 1948. In three contrasted movements, Moderato, TSIAJ:Presto and Moderato con moto. The opening Moderato is a great surprise as the work sounds remarkably modern and is not dissimilar to the music in the Moe and Kirchner, and they form a definite arc. Ives writes a series of intense dialogues, for cello and piano (right hand) and for violin and piano (left hand) before combining all the material. The movements of the work are each associated with different episodes in Ives's student days and this movement is self-consciously serious, echoing a talk by an elderly professor of philosophy. The initials in the title TSIAJ:Presto refer to This Scherzo is a joke (!) Here we have the familiar Ivesian pull between complex harmony, opaque textures and popular song, with a series of popular tunes (associated by Ives with a student holiday afternoon) being subject to some of Ives's wildest treatment. The movement moves abruptly into the finale which is more series, and partly a remembrance of a Sunday service on campus. It still includes found material, this time music Ives wrote for the Harvard Glee Club as a learned canon, and the movement finishes with Rock of Ages.

Odradek Records is a non-profit, artist controlled label and many of the recordings are released under Creative Commons licences rather than the traditional All Rights Reserved, thus giving the artists more control.

All the pieces on this disc have a sense of well wrought dialectic, each of the composers wanting us to listen to carefully structured argument. All the works fit into an expressive arc, all are rewarding but require work from the listener. The performances from Trio Appassionata are exemplary

Thomas Kotcheff (born 1988) - gone into night are all the eyes (2013) [22.29]
Eric Moe (born 1954) - We Happy Few (1990) [14.33]
Leon Kirchner (1919 - 2009) - Piano Trio (1954) [14.44]
Charles Ives (1874 - 1954) - Piano Trio (1904-1911) [23.48]
Trio Appassionata (Lydia Chernicoff, violin, Andrea Casarrubios, cello, Ronaldo Rolim, piano)
Recorded Oktaven Audio, 2-10 August 2013.

ODRADEK ODRCD313 1CD [75.36]

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