WORKS: Trio in A minor; Piano Trio
PERFORMER: Henry Cowell, Hartley Trio
CATALOGUE NO: GAM CD 536 DDD
These two fascinating discs serve to illustrate the fantastic diversity of styles that are so characteristic of American 20th-century music. Yo-Yo Ma’s compilation is the more obviously eclectic, encompassing both the popular idiom of Gershwin and the Schoenberg-inspired intellectualism of Kirchner. The performances are typically full-blooded, with Ma making out a very convincing case for his arrangement of Bernstein’s early and somewhat Hindemithian Clarinet Sonata.
Only the Gershwin proves disappointing, for, in comparison with Heifetz’s legendary recording, Ma’s rendition lacks panache and technical sophistication. Undoubtedly, the major item on both discs is the Ives Piano Trio of 1904, an astounding work whose audacity of invention still manages to shock listeners well versed in the musical complexities of the post-war avant-garde. Both recordings have their merits, though Ma and his colleagues embrace a wider emotional range than the Hartley Trio, adopting a far more deliberate (some might say indulgent) tempo for the final slow movement.
Yet those who are more attracted to the Hartley Trio’s programme should not be put off by their relative restraint in the Ives, for they show themselves to be perfectly capable of exuberant playing, as in the wild central dance of Copland’sVitebsk and Bloch’s tempestuous third nocturne. Erik Levi