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Mirrors – 21st-Century American Piano Trios

Sarah Shafer (soprano); Lysander Piano Trio (FHR)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Mirrors – 21st Century American Piano Trios
Works by S Belimova, Ciupinski, G Cohen, WD Cooper, Higdon and R Moya
Sarah Shafer (soprano); Lysander Piano Trio
First Hand Records FHR 111   71:26 mins


The traditional piano trio – violin, cello and piano – has been the go-to piano-based ensemble for great composers throughout history: Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann all focused efforts on arrangements for three players, and Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich also favoured the format. In spite of contemporary chamber music’s inclination for unusual instrumentation, this centuries-old combination has continued to flourish – in part thanks to the work of the Lysander Piano Trio, which has promoted and premiered several major works. The ensemble’s ten-year anniversary project Mirrors comprises six first recordings of 21st-century pieces – including four commissions.

As its title and cover artwork suggests, this album draws on reflections, particularly those found within the arts at large. Shakespeare is the inspiration behind Gilad Cohen’s Around the Cauldron, which evokes the three witches in Macbeth via a grumbling bass (sometimes played on the bridge, imitating an electric guitar) and sighing bent notes. The Bard is also central to Sofia Belimova’s compact Titania and Her Suite, a fleeting, fairy-like tribute to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Lysander Piano Trio takes its name from the play, applying the character’s famous line ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’ to their work as a musicians.)

Sarah Shafer joins the trio for Jennifer Higdon’s Love Sweet, a five-part cycle that uses texts by American poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925). Shafer’s lyric soprano suits the wistful melodies; the addition of cello and violin to the usual voice-and-piano art song is highly evocative. Four novels, a religious text and a painting technique inspire the remaining featured works.


Claire Jackson