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ClassicsOnline Home » Chamber Music (Piano Trios) - GERHARD, R. / MONTSALVATGE, X. / CASSADO, G. (Trio Arriaga)
These three Catalan piano trios reveal illuminating facets of each composer. Roberto Gerhard’s early trio exudes a distinctly French ethos, alongside that of de Falla, very different from his later asperity. Xavier Montsalvatge’s much later work, written between 1986 and 1988, owes its origin to disparate sources but forms an impressive whole, and is lyrical, expressive, sensual and dance-like in turn. Admired as a cellist, Gaspar Cassadó composed a brilliantly virtuoso trio, influenced by earlier Spanish models, but revealing great panache and considerable demands via guitar imitations, malagueña rhythms and lashings of folkloric brio.
Roberto Gerhard (1896–1970)
Xavier Montsalvatge (1912–2002)
Gaspar Cassadó (1897–1966)
In the first half of the twentieth century, various debates were held in Spain’s music world, about such divisive issues as the respective merits of different musical centres (Madrid or Barcelona, for example), the disappearance of composers into exile because of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship, or the idea of the “complete” musician—one who performed, composed and taught, as opposed to simply “creating”.
More important when considering the Catalan composers Roberto Gerhard (1896–1970), Gaspar Cassadó (1897–1966) and Xavier Montsalvatge (1912–2002) is the correlation between each man and one of the three dominant trends—the avant-garde, tradition and eclecticism—a connection which would stamp their compositional personalities. Gerhard consolidated his position as a rare link in Spain to Schoenberg’s serialism, while Cassadó was an exponent of traditional Spanish nationalism. Montsalvatge became popular by creating works in different styles, including a “West Indian” phase: his exotic approach to a discordant reality.
Each of these composers at some point adopted a belief in a particular musical ideal, but this did not overpower the individual features of their composing idioms. In other words, if some specifically Spanish element appeared in their compositions, it did so quite naturally, not as an exotic addition, nor did it need to be highlighted in any way. The piano trios they wrote are unique in handing down and reflecting an earlier premise. They are works that gain in colour and impact by incorporating forms and attributes traditional in nature but qualified with innovative touches, as well as being singular examples of a genre experiencing something of a decline.
Roberto Gerhard, together with his friend and pupil Joaquim Homs (1906–2003), represented the most avant-garde section of the so-called ‘Generation of 1927’. In his work chromaticism and a highly expressive atonality seek out compact, tightly wound sonorities. Among his dozen or so chamber works, the Trio for violin, cello and piano (1918) is an early work influenced by Falla and French composers such as Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. It predates the aesthetic stance he adopted after studying the Spanish Renaissance and Bach, and after travelling to Vienna to work with Schoenberg.
It is worth noting that he did write another trio, in 1922, for violin, clarinet and piano, which is sometimes referred to as his Trio No. 2. Gerhard had been studying with Pedrell prior to that, and his Trio No. 1 is dedicated to his teacher. Cast in three movements, it is a very technically competent piece, characterized by a harmonic openness and balanced between tradition and modernity. There are touches of Gerhard’s Spanish nationalist inheritance too in the trio’s most original movement, the finale. Although this is marked Vif, it never actually exceeds a tempo of allegro. Instead, it harks back to the sensuality and dreamlike qualities of the preceding Très calme which, with its refinement and a sophisticated expressiveness seldom achieved in later works, is the axis on which the work as a whole turns.
Xavier Montsalvatge studied violin at the Barcelona Conservatory with Francesc Costa and composition with Lluís Millet, Enric Morera and Jaume Pahissa. His 5 Canciones negras brought him international fame and set him on a dazzling career path. Over the years he created works in all genres, and saw them performed by such musical luminaries as Alicia de Larrocha, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Victoria de los Ángeles, Narciso Yepes and Nicanor Zabaleta, among others.
The composer himself admitted that the trio as a form did not inspire him. It is not therefore surprising that his trio, far removed from the flavours of the Caribbean, came about in a slightly unusual way—the product of two separate commissions. Montsalvatge composed Balada a Dulcinea and Ritornelo for the 1986 Jornadas Cervantinas festival, then in 1988, having been commissioned by the INAEM (National Institute for Music and the Performing Arts), he wrote Diálogo con Mompou as a tribute to the late Frederic Mompou. When it came to publishing the two pieces, he decided to rework them into a single composition. The trio is dominated by an lyrically evocative but non-descriptivist line, whose iridescence, dreaminess and sensuality demonstrate an admirable talent, even if the work as a whole is a little uneven.
The most successful movement is the Diálogo con Mompou, because of the textures the composer creates, in which the strings provide the “filling” and the piano strives to converse on the same terms as in Mompou’s Dialogues. The movement ends with a melodic epilogue for the violin, forming a contrast with the Ritornelo, a kind of rondo with a notably dance-like, volatile character, featuring jazzy allusions here and there.
A pupil of Casals, Gaspar Cassadó was one of the best-known cellists of the first half of the twentieth century. His own compositions are small in number but high in quality. As well as the Concerto in D minor, Suite and Sonata (with piano) for his own instrument, he also wrote three string quartets and the trio recorded here, along with numerous transcriptions of works by other composers.
The spontaneity and sheer power of the Piano Trio in C major (1926–29) are captivating. Adopting the standard fast-slow-fast format, the work shows the influence of Granados, Falla and Turina. It is an intense and masterfully structured virtuoso piece, in which rhythm plays a key rôle as dances such as the polo and malagueña are evoked. Central to the music are typically Spanish twists such as augmented seconds, melismatic ornamentation and the use of spiccato and strumming effects. This trio can be seen as the fulfilment of what Fernández Arbós and Bretón—in their different ways—were trying to do in their own works in the genre. By contrast with them, folk music and the Romantic tradition are key elements in Cassadó’s music, as they were in that of Casals.
Albert Ferrer Flamarich
English translation by Susannah Howe
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