Lalo: Piano Trio No. 1; Piano Trio No. 2; Piano Trio No. 3

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WORKS: Piano Trio No. 1; Piano Trio No. 2; Piano Trio No. 3
PERFORMER: Barbican Piano Trio
Never mind the Symphonie espagnole and Le roi d’Ys, Edouard Lalo is the last of the great unknowns in 19th-century French music. His mature instrumental works combine the wisdom drawn from his professional playing experience with the familiar flair for rhythm and colour. They are likely to transform any opinion you may hold: it isn’t often that the inspiration of Beethoven was so well digested in France.


The first two trios don’t really count as mature, and although they contain fine things, especially in the scherzos, their characteristic soul, sweep and dash are often clumsily handled. With No. 3, form and feeling are as one, the first movement’s surges integral to its progress to a hushed end, while the slow movement builds a powerful span from a sustained melody. Between them comes the irresistible piece better known in Lalo’s later arrangement as a Scherzo for orchestra. These performances have the necessary robustness without stinting on delicacy.


His Quartet is full of incident and drama where many composers are content with ‘development’. Again the Scherzo is a tour de force of syncopations and cross-rhythms. This music stands in relation to Franck much as Schumann does to Brahms, and the playing sounds understandably committed and vigorous. It is fascinatingly coupled. Even for Gounod and Ambroise Thomas, opera wasn’t everything. Thomas’s Quartet is lucid and melodically fertile, never putting a foot wrong, lacking only intensity and adventurousness. Gounod’s is another matter, elliptical and energetic, with Beethoven again in the background (particularly his Op. 95 Quartet) and episodes of Mireille-like charm woven in with a quietly purposeful air. Robert Maycock