Monday, April 25, 2016

Alkan - Piano Trio In G Minor Opus 30

Paris in 1837 attracted artists of all persuasions, not least of all some of the most well known names in classical music. Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin lived in the city, along with Charles Alkan. Alkan was a personal friend and neighbor of Chopin and the two composer/pianists spent much time together.

The majority of both composer's compositions are for piano solo or include the piano in ensemble.  Each wrote a handful of chamber music pieces early on in their careers which included a piano trio each. Chopin's Piano Trio In G Minor Opus 8 was published in 1829, Alkan's Piano Trio In G Minor Opus 30 was published in 1841 but may have been written earlier.  Both are written for the same combination of violin, cello and piano.

Alkan's Piano Trio is in 4 movements:

I.  Assez largement (Rather widely) - There is no doubt which instrument is the dominant one in Chopin's piano trio. Alkan also has the piano play a large role, but the two stringed instruments are closer to being active partners in music making. The first movement is in sonata form, but Alkan segues the sections almost imperceptibly. The piano begins the movement with a terse motive that the strings mimic after a few bars:
This plays out rather rapidly and leads to a short section of piano solo that leads into the second theme in B-flat major that is played by the violin with piano accompaniment:
This second theme is also taken up by the cello and the two stringed instruments have a short dialogue while the the piano plays a counter melody in the bass and continues to accompany in the right hand.  Then piano and violin join in a staccato flurry of sixteenth notes as the cello plays a fragment of the first theme:
This short section concludes the exposition of the movement and leads seamlessly to the development section. The two themes are played against each other until the development section and recapitulation merge into a type of hybrid with no clear delineation. A short coda has all three instruments pound out the note of G in triple forte.

II. Très vite (Very quickly) - A Beethovenian scherzo in G minor, the three instruments enter one at a time, all of them playing the note D, the piano in short staccatos, strings in pizzicato. The violin and piano join in a short motive while the cello plunks out an accompaniment:
Another eight bar phrase completes the section, which is repeated. The second part of the scherzo begins with the cello repeating the bare octave D's of the beginning while the piano plays running eighth notes. The violin takes turns with the cello playing octaves as the piano continues. The opening of the scherzo returns and is finished up by a short section with alternating octaves in the piano before the scherzo ends in a flurry. The trio section begins with the piano playing a short fugal section until the violin changes the mood with a melody in E-flat. The key changes to a short section in C minor until the scherzo is repeated. A short coda brings back the opening of the trio until a brilliant triple forte section is cut short by the quiet hint of a G minor chord.

III.  Lentement (Slowly) - Written in G major, the movement begins with the violin playing in double stops along with the cello. The theme is introspective, and continues until the piano interrupts with a section in G minor that is more agitated.  The piano goes silent again as the strings bring back the calm of the opening. The piano interrupts again, but not for as long. Slowly the three instruments start to blend together. The dialogue increases until the piano relents and joins in a chorale in tremolos with the strings.  The transfiguration is complete, the piano grows calm and then quiet as the movement ends in a whisper in the strings.

IV. Vite (Quickly) -  The piano part is as a perpetuum mobile as flurries of sixteenth notes spill out from the keyboard through most of the movement. The strings carry motives through the thicket of the piano until the key shifts to G major and the strings join in the scurry of sixteenth notes.

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