Zemlinsky, Bloch, Korngold: Piano Trios / Pacific Trio

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I first came across the Los Angeles-based Pacific Trio following its 2009 release of American Composers on the Marsyas label. On this new Capriccio release the Pacific Trio - founded in 1979 - has turned to piano trios by three composers who were products of the Austro-German conservatory system. Having Jewish heritage ensured their names were listed in the infamous Lexikon der Juden in der Musik (Encyclopaedia of Jews in Music) leading to their music being banned by the Nazis. At various times all three composers managed to immigrate to America where they continued their careers without fear of persecution.

Brahms was so impressed with Zemlinsky’s Trio for clarinet, cello and piano in D Minor from 1896 that he recommended the work to his publisher Simrock. Shrewdly Brahms suggested that the clarinet part be also written for a violin so a standard piano trio could play the work and increase its scope. The score reminded me slightly of Brahms but without the glorious melodies. Although the three movements have different tempi the overall mood is warm and agreeable with a controlled passion, never unruly but with a rather windswept disposition.

Bloch’s Three Nocturnes for piano, violin and cello were written in 1924 at Cleveland where he was founding director of the newly established Cleveland Institute of Music. Neo-classical in style each nocturne is a character piece said to portray a particular feature of the night. Beautifully drafted and agreeable this work seems over all too soon. Especially delightful is the colourful and rather alluring opening Nocturne - an Andante that sounds distinctly like raindrops. The second reminds me of a Berceuse and the third marked Tempestoso is spiritedly rhythmic somewhat evocative of wind and rain.

A child prodigy, Korngold wrote his Trio for piano, violin and cello in D major, Op. 1 in 1909/10 when he was a mere 13 years old. In 1910 he had written a ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman) that had been performed at the Vienna Court Opera. Despite the assiduousness of the Pacific Trio everything feels too similar in mood with the different tempi of each of the four movements insufficient to hold the attention. As the product of a boy, albeit a genius, it’s perhaps not surprising there is little emotional depth to the writing.

The engineers provide warm well balanced sound while the dedicated and well prepared players deliver amenable performances displaying satisfying unity and a pleasing timbre. It’s bold of the trio to present three rarely heard works on a single CD but to increase the desirability of the release by not including one well known repertoire score is an opportunity missed.

– MusicWeb International (Michael Cookson)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: C5221

  • UPC: 845221052212

  • Label: Capriccio

  • Composer: Alexander von Zemlinsky, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ernest Bloch

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Pacific Trio