This is the second installment in a two CD project by the Icicle Creek Piano Trio for Con Brio Recordings Following the huge success of their debut CD of Ravel and Schubert, Icicle Creek Trio has recorded a contrasting program of the traditional as well as the challenging 20th Century style.
Although Franz Josef Haydn’s major contributions to the music of the Classical period are often noted, the wealth of his output inevitably prompts rediscovery of forgotten gems. This is especially true in the piano trio repertoire, where over forty trios by Haydn exist but only a handful are popularly acknowledged. The E-major trio selected for this recording is from a later group of three trios (1794-95) dedicated to the London pianist Thérèse Jansen. As is so typical of Haydn’s music, the wit, charm, and transparent sincerity of the composer’s personality pervade this work. From the quirky opening, in which the piano attempts to play pizzicato alongside the strings, to the metric play and light-hearted antics of the last movement, this piece reflects the popular image of “Papa Haydn” in all its best qualities. Between the livelier outer movements is an unexpected and fascinating musical oasis that speaks to the Baroque past and forms a thought provoking, even dramatic, statement within the piece’s narrative.
Moving from Austria to Spain, Joaquin Turina’s programmatic “fantasy trio” entitled Circulo aurally and metaphorically transports the listener to a different time and place. Composed in 1936, just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, this piece does not reflect the historical circumstances of the time as much as the cultural flavors and colors of Turina’s native Spain. In three movements, whose titles translate to “Dawn,” “Midday,” and “Dusk,” Turina provides the ideal setting for cyclical form in the musical depiction of an entire day. The piece captures the slow awakening and first sounds of the morning, the growing intensity of the sunrise, the revelry and energy of midday, and the gradual calming to a peaceful evening (with the opening musical material appropriately reflected at the end of the piece). The shifting moods, contrast of bright and hazy colors, and distinctive Spanish flair of this piece effectively carry the listener through a compact, but satisfyingly full day’s journey.
In light of the first two pieces, the stark contrasts and interesting coincidental similarities found in the Shostakovich trio give perspective to all three works on the disc. While cyclic in form like Turina’s trio, Shostakovich’s epic Piano Trio in E minor is a journey on a much larger physical and emotional scale. Unlike Circulo, this is a piece whose perceived programmatic elements inevitably invoke strong ties to its tortured political and historical climate. In vivid contrast to Haydn, Shostakovich’s personality and music are anything but transparent.
Composed in 1944 in the grim shadows of the Second World War, the Trio in E minor is dedicated to the composer’s close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, who died suddenly in February of that year. Central to the work are the Jewish themes and macabre dance that characterize the last movement. These references have been linked to Shostakovich’s sympathy for the intense suffering of the Jewish people, whose persecution was coming to light at the time. Pain and anguish are deeply felt in this piece, and as is so often heard in Shostakovich’s music, irony and sarcasm seem to lie just beneath the surface of humor and gaiety. From the haunting, ghostly cello harmonics that open the first movement, to the forced celebratory outbursts in the wild second movement, to the profound despair of the third movement (also based on the Baroque passacaglia form, like Haydn’s slow movement, yet so vastly different), to the feverish return of the opening material and resignation at the end of the last movement, the emotional power of this piece is enormous and gripping. Programmatic or not, it speaks to the human heart at a universal level.
—program notes by Jennifer Caine