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Smetana, Rose & Rachmaninov Piano Trios

Piano trios by Smetana, Lawrence Rose and Rachmaninov

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Catalogue Number: 5060192781175


‘A Rose between two thorns’ doesn’t quite work here – most of the thorns as well as an unearthly fragrance at times belong to the big central work, [Lawrence] Rose’s 2019 Piano Trio. A master of unconventional form, taking only the broadest cues here from the seven-movement continuity of Beethoven’s Op. 131 String Quartet, Rose sacrificed composing for the law but has since made up for lost time. Like Smetana and Rachmaninov – and indeed like most composers when they took up the piano trio form – he has much to lament, in this case USA shootings and war crimes in Syria which lie behind the cumulative elegy of the final movement. Despite that, and constant reference to a Passacaglia theme, the essence is mercurial, sometimes even playful, and the light which shines though allows the work to end in peace. It’s certainly a richly wrought and fascinating addition to the piano trio repertoire. While Rachmaninov’s youthful homage to Tchaikovsky – still alive at the time – follows the lessons of the master with its own impressive themes, Smetana’s early work teems with originality, both in tragic pathos (he was mourning the loss of his four-year old daughter) and in structural ingenuity. Violinist Ruth Rogers and cellist Katherine Jenkinson are captured with respective brilliance and resonance by the recording. (BBC Music)

With a discography including two volumes of Haydn (Naxos), the piano trios of Saint-Saëns (Guild, 11/14) and newer works by Rob Keeley (Naxos) and Thomas Hyde (Guild), the Aquinas Piano Trio are clearly at home in a wide repertoire, as is reflected in the works heard on this new release. Interest centres on the Piano Trio (2019) by Lawrence Rose who, now in his late seventies, turned exclusively to composition after a career in law and relocating to Chicago. The work is cast in seven movements, with anticipatory or recollective links drawing these into a cohesive yet intentionally non-seamless whole. Most impressive are the second-movement passacaglia with its combative dialogue for strings and piano, then the final Largo, whose elegiac intensity pointedly underlines those mass shootings and war crimes such as provided the creative spur. The Aquinas make a persuasive case for this work and hardly sound less assured in the other pieces. The discursive initial movement of the Smetana (1854) is trenchant and forthright but with enough expressive poise to avoid hectoring, while the interplay of dance rhythms in the Scherzo or emotional volatility reaching uneasy catharsis in the finale are tangibly conveyed. Nor does the overall sombreness of Rachmaninov’s G minor (1892) lack expressive variety, its single movement accruing real fervency before withdrawing into Tschaikovskian fatalism. (Gramophone)

At first glance what stands out in the headnote to this review are the two standard repertoire works for piano trio by Smetana and Rachmaninoff. But the highlight of this outstanding album is the world premiere recording of the Piano Trio, op. 26, by the English composer [Lawrence] Rose, born in 1943 and no relation to the famous American cellist. Rose exemplifies the enduring tradition of the English amateur, having pursued a career in law until 2001, at which point he retired to become a composer full time. Since then Rose has written in all genres, including four symphonies, three violin concertos, and a concerto for orchestra; he also moved to Chicago, although the year isn’t specified in the short bio provided in the booklet. Rose’s Piano Trio is a remarkable and almost seamless transition between the Romantic idioms of Smetana and Rachmaninoff. He modeled the work in seven continuous movements, citing Beethoven’s String Quartet, op. 131, as a precedent, although unlike Beethoven, Rose provides linking music between the movements. There’s a good deal of scrupulous craftsmanship at work employing traditional forms like the fugue and passacaglia, circular returns to previous material, solos for each instrument, and a general sense of close joinery. Contrast is provided by the 12 tempo indications as the music shifts in mood and speed. The fourth movement, marked Adagietto, is “an extended wistfully lyrical and at times passionately elegiac centerpiece to the whole work.” Form has little to do with emotion, and where Rose succeeds best is in his ability to connect emotionally with the listener. His themes display a gift for melody, and he makes dramatic use of instrumental color. The result is unexpectedly successful—unexpected because one feels that this must be a Russian work, so closely aligned with Shostakovich in dramatic variety and Rachmaninoff for passionate elegy that the connection seems undeniable. However, no mention of any influences is provided in the program notes, so I can only judge by ear. In any event, the work is a triumph of traditionalism without a trace of tiredness or routine. This is my first encounter with the Aquinas Piano Trio, whose career appears to focus largely on Britain; mention is made of frequent appearances at Wigmore Hall in London. The three members—Ruth Rogers, violin; Katherine Jenkinson, cello; and Martin Cousin, piano—exhibit the unanimity of musical purpose that marks the best long- standing chamber ensembles. I tend to listen first to the piano in order to judge the quality of a piano trio, and Cousin is a standout for having an individual voice, after which I’d place Rogers’s violin. The two masterpieces by Smetana and Rachmaninoff, both in G Minor, are given thoroughly musical performances in which not a stitch is dropped. I can think of more dramatic readings by more famous performers, but the Aquinas Trio’s performances are both beautiful and satisfying. What I hope will be the most lasting impact of this album, however, is the arrival of Rose’s Piano Trio, which deserves wide recognition. Warmly recommended. (Fanfare)

Track listing
  1. Smetana: Piano   Trio Op. 15 – I – Moderato assai – Più animato
  2. Smetana: Piano Trio Op. 15 – II – Allegro, ma non agitato
  3. Smetana: Piano Trio Op. 15 – III – Finale. Presto
  4. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – I –   Allegro moderato
  5. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – II – Larghetto – Allegro moderato
  6. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – III – Allegro – Adagietto
  7. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – IV – Adagietto
  8. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – V – Vivace – Adagietto
  9. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – VI – Allegro moderato – Adagio
  10. Rose: Piano Trio Op. 26 – VII   – Largo – poco meno mosso
  11. Rachmaninov: Trio Élégiaque No. 1