Trio Appassionata - GONE INTO NIGHT ARE ALL THE EYES
- 01 Thomas Kotcheff – gone into night are all the eyes – I. evanescent
- 02 Thomas Kotcheff – gone into night are all the eyes – II. volatile
- 03 Thomas Kotcheff – gone into night are all the eyes – III. stark
- 04 Eric Moe – We Happy Few
- 05 Leon Kirchner – Piano Trio – I. Marcato
- 06 Leon Kirchner – Piano Trio – II. Largo
- 07 Charles Ives – Piano Trio – I. Moderato
- 08 Charles Ives – Piano Trio – II. TSIAJ. Presto
- 09 Charles Ives – Piano Trio – III. Moderato con moto
TRIO APPASIONATA – GONE INTO NIGHT ARE ALL THE EYES
Ives, Moe, Kirchner, Kotcheff
Booklet in English, German, and Spanish.
Program notes by Hugh Collins Rice.
“… an enjoyable debut from Trio Appassionata…”
Meet the Artist - The Cross-Eyed Pianist / 16 February 2018
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
I never really thought of it as a choice, it just happened. My surroundings as a kid made it pretty inevitable [Fred’s father is violinist Peter Thomas], or at least that’s how it feels. But I would venture to say that none of us really has a choice anyway! So I just accept it and enjoy it and go along with it.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Hmmm… the universe? That’s a hard question… some of my favourite musicians are Lester Young, Joao Gilberto, Charlie Haden, Elliott Carter, Bach. Maybe there’s something that links all those people, I’m not sure… something about elegance and carefulness maybe. I can’t separate the influences on my musical life and the influences on simply me. I try to be into lots of things so that when I play it sounds like I’m not just a pianist, but an interesting person. I think cats have influenced me a lot though, too.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Finding a way that feels comfortable and personal playing jazz piano without being drowned by powerful influences and ending up sounding just like someone else. Also, balancing the desire to be a polymath and someone very specialized… Coming to terms with the huge pros and but also the problems of being into so many styles of music. It’s hard to make peace with that. Finding the strength to compose is sometimes pretty hard when there are people like J.S. Bach around… I just want to spend my time with him instead.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
As a pianist, this new Bach one on Odradek I think. As a producer, I made a very creative record with Lily Luca that I still like. I also made a duo record with my violinist dad that means a lot to me. But generally it’s hard to be excited about old work, and the next project is always way more interesting and fun.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Those which I love and feel most aligned with.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
My choices relate to what I happen to be interested in at the time. I play all sorts of music and I’m a composer and producer. They all feed into each other, although sometimes you have to put up big barriers between them to kind of protect them from each other… co-existing with different styles requires a lot of… intellectual discipline… I think that’s it.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Jamboree, in London: unpretentious, nice vibes, mixed crowd. I find the homogeneity of the average classical venue audience to be quite disturbing, with little attempt to be inclusive in relation to age, race or class. I do find myself going to the Wigmore Hall a lot because they have such great musicians playing great music but politically this type of institution makes me pretty uncomfortable. So my favourite venues usually play other types of music.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Probably hearing Mahler’s Third Symphony for the first time.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I think I dislike the concept of success but I guess I would say that my arbitrary definition is to be a nice person and find a way to truly come across as yourself through whatever instrument or style you choose.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think it would be good if musicians realised how revealing it is to play music. You can see people so clearly. That has implications. I would say that generosity is the musical quality I most value: doing what’s right for the music or trying to make someone else sound amazing. If you can do that whilst also being very individual then that’s amazing. But how those two intersect is obviously very hard.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I hope that, wherever or whatever that is, it’s better than I can imagine now, which is already great.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your present state of mind?
Confused by the chasmic implications these questions draw my attention to.
Fred Thomas’s CD Dance Suites is available now on the Odradek label. More information
Fred Thomas studied at the Royal Academy of Music and is one of London’s most sought-after multi-instrumentalists and composer/arranger/producers. A member of the F-IRE Collective, he recently embarked on a trilogy of J.S. Bach recordings to be released on ECM, The Silent Howl and Odradek Records. His first is a trio with Aisha Orazbayeva and Lucy Railton that plays Thomas’s transcriptions of Bach’s Chorale Preludes, the scores of which are published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen. His second, ‘Electrofeit‘, is a solo organ record and featured the multi-tracking of fugues inspired by the work of historian Hayden White.
Other projects include The Beguilers, a sextet that interprets Thomas’s song settings of poetry; his Polyphonic Jazz Band, a quintet with Martin Speake that explores improvised polyphony; a trio with Maurizio Ravalico and actor Gary Cooper that pits improvised music for prepared piano and percussion against prose-poems; an ongoing recording of contemporary interpretations of the medieval Chantilly Codex; a duo with his violinist father Peter Thomas; and a Richard Wagner tribute band with jazz pianist Liam Noble.
Fred Thomas has appeared or collaborated with a wide variety of artists, including Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Jordi Savall, Jarvis Cocker, Ethan Iverson, Tamara Stefanovich, Basquiat Strings, Kadialy Kouyate, Leo Abrahams, Lisa Knapp, Mor Karbasi, CBSO, Elysian Quartet, Jason Yarde, Julian Siegel, Alice Zawadzki, Jiri Slavik, Zac Gvi, Pete Flood, The Magic Lantern, Seb Rochford, Oren Marshall and Olivia Chaney, as well as record labels Harmonica Mundi and Realworld. He has worked at The National Theatre and has toured worldwide with Filter Theatre and as musical director with Shakespeare’s Globe. He teaches at Trinity Laban and as a producer has recorded albums for many artists in Europe. His most recent compositions, for voice, string quartet and percussion, were commissioned by BitterSuite and Phaedra Ensemble and are being performed internationally and at the Royal Opera House, London.
“This is a fascinating CD, uncorrupted by hipness or gimmickry… The Trio plays the music with complete dedication and assurance.”
Norman Lebrecht / January 2020
“No happier way to start a year than Francis Poulenc, few grimmer than Charles Koechlin. This album opens with the little-played Poulenc Sinfonietta, originally intended as a string quartet and allegedly thrown in a Paris gutter when it did not work out. First heard in London in 1948, it’s a Mozart-meets-Stravinsky score, and none the worse for that. Even at his most neo-classical, Igor never got this light.
The captivating Poulenc piano concerto was premiered by the composer himself in 1950. The Boston audience snubbed it as second-rate Rachmaninov, but Poulenc has much more joie-de-vivre, and wears what he called ‘my Parisian sexuality’ out and proud. It will put a smile on any face, outside Boston.
Something Koechlin can’t. If Wagner had been born half a century later in France, he would have been Koechlin. Tepid, imitative, sub-Vaughan Williams at best, Koechlin is the sort of thing the BBC used to play to fill time up to the news. Life’s worth more than this. The Bamberger Symphony play well for Thomas Rösner.”
“… fleeting glimpses of darting insect pizzicato, rhapsodic sunset glows and trembling piano trills, a blend of languor and apprehension evoking nocturnal mysteries.”
Textura / July 2019
“Italian pianists Stefano Travaglini and Massimiliano Coclite favour the term ‘instant composition' over improvisation to describe what they're doing on this superb collaboration: in their eyes, the latter signifies an approach fully liberated from conventions of harmony, rhythm, and form, whereas the former involves using a ‘score' as a guide, one that outlines a direction and even perhaps goal and that's delineated by notes, words, or diagrams. Stated otherwise, the twelve tracks on The Long Line aren't improvisations in the pure sense, though it's fundamentally present in how the two bring the pieces into physical form. Some of them, in fact, draw for inspiration from classical composers, specifically Hindemith, Copland, Stravinsky, and the English Tudor composer John Bull, a move that also focuses attention on the blurring of the lines between classical and jazz forms. Even in the album's six free improvisations, direction of a kind has been adopted, namely from Aristotle and his enumeration of drama-related elements: Mythos (plot), Ethos (character), Dianoia (theme or reasoning), Lexis (diction/speech), Melos (music) and Opsis (spectacle).
Travaglini, who's toured with his own Quintet and DayDream Trio outfits, has released two solo albums, the 2017 solo piano album Ellipse (Notami Jazz) and 2013's The Hungarian Songbook. Coclite, a graduate of the Conservatoires of Teramo and Bari, is a long-time member of the wind quintet D'Annunzio and is a jazz instructor at the Alfredo Casella Music Conservatory in L'Aquila and the Nino Rota Music Conservatory in Monopoli. However different their backgrounds are, the two demonstrate a remarkable synergy on the recording. Close listening of the most attentive kind is required in an undertaking such as this one where the potential for getting tangled up in each other's playing is omnipresent; Travaglini and Coclite are careful to ensure their playing's marked by clarity above all else and that the album's ‘instant compositions' don't turn into mere displays of virtuosity. However important each pianist is to the hour-long outcome, The Long Line can only succeed when the two put the collective entity before the individual.
In “Mythos,” dancing, single-note figures intertwine with a methodical, Bach-like elegance and architectural logic, and don't be surprised if you're reminded of Lennie Tristano's own multi-tracked solo piano performances during “Dianoia,” which exudes a similar kind of mathematical logic. Inspired by one of Hindemith's Four Temperaments (Sanguinisch), “Garden of Delights” sees the duo interlocking with preternatural precision, the lines clustering into threads that gather into unison chords and then separate into divergent yet complementary patterns.
“Querendo dançar,” which draws for inspiration from a Giga by John Bull from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, finds the duo dissolving the gap between the late-sixteenth century and today with a bluesy, almost stride-like exercise; the connection between Travaglini and Coclite is especially pronounced in the performance, never more so than during the closing minute when the diverse strands come together in a delicately rendered resolution. Inspired by Stravinsky's Trois pièces pour quatuor à cordes, “Folk song, Clowns and Litany” wends adventurously through its eleven minutes, beginning impishly and then detouring abruptly into spikier territory before settling into a reverie that alternates between plaintive and majestic.
Its title taken from a quote Aaron Copland included in his What to Listen for in Music (“Music must always flow, for that is part of its very essence, but the creation of that continuity and flow – that long line – constitutes the be-all and end-all of every composer's existence”), the animated title track flows with a breezy elegance characteristic of French impressionist music. Elsewhere, a pronounced blues-jazz sensibility drives the roller-coaster swing of “Lexis,” while “Opsis” distinguishes itself by being played entirely on the piano strings, resulting in a shimmering mass that in places sounds as if a dulcimer's being sourced.
Similar to Ellipse's standout “Monk's Mood / Presences,” wherein fragments of Monk's composition elliptically emerge, The album's most memorable track is the cover of Johnny Green's 1930 classic “Body and Soul,” in large part because its familiarity allows the listener to gauge more consciously the ways by which the pianists put their stamp on the tune, which they do by underlaying its famous melody with unusual harmonies, the result a startlingly original reimagining. By underpinning the tune's well-known theme with darker sonorities, the pianists create an effect a little bit like two planets colliding.
Throughout the recording, the pianists' expressions are emphatically made though not at the expense of control, and the ruminations, however rooted in a classical template they might be, exemplify the explorative quality of improvised jazz; structural coherence is definitely present, yet free-flow, too. It's worth noting that before the nineteenth century, the distinction between composition and improvisation was less prevalent than it is today, with pianists and violinists routinely including cadenzas and improvised solo passages in performances of composers' works. With The Long Line, Travaglini and Coclite thus offer something of a portal to an earlier time when the co-presence of composition and improvisation in a piece wasn't unusual.”
“… what a joy to find performers and a composer who, despite their age, are no longer budding since they already bear such beautiful fruit!”
Falcinelli.org / February 2015
“Four generations of American composers, four radically different aesthetics, make up the program designed by Trio Appassionata, itself rich in diversity: pianist Ronaldo Rolim (born 1986) is Brazilian, cellist Andrea Casarrubios is Spanish, violinist Lydia Chernicoff – whose name suggests Russian origins - comes from Massachusetts, and all three met during their common studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Collecting international awards and pursuing their academic careers, they still manage to explore contemporary music, and even make it happen: the first piece of the program (conducted in reverse chronology) was commissioned by the Trio specifically for this project; composer Thomas Kotcheff, born in 1988, was therefore only 25 when he composed this piece whose title is the English translation of a verse by Jorge Luis Borges.
And this is not the slightest success of this record: we discover a composer whose tone is eminently personal, original and sensitive; the first two atmospheric movements weave, with infinite delicacy, combinations of tones between the upper registers of the three partners, but without the scratchy systematism often associated with high register effects. Always restrained, the refined touch demanded of performers quickly informs us on the musicality of the Trio Appassionata! Then the final movement embraces lower tones throughout a vast crescendo of drama, extremely lyrical without ever lapsing into complacent ease, before returning to a whisper. The emotion is renewed, even growing with each replay, which indubitably proves the genuine value of an author to follow in the future.
We go back a generation with Eric Moe (born in 1954, professor of composition at the University of Pittsburgh), drier than his younger peer in his combination of short segments. The writing of We Happy Few, certainly serious, a tad slow to take off before the rhythmic propulsion of intelligently staged harmonic clusters gives the last part the momentum we hoped. The structure chains various tempi and rebounds with a strong taste for paradox in the last lines of the Ode to melancholy by Keats.
A small shade of sadness is related by the performers in their musical statement (another tradition of Odradek) prefacing the record: worried about the great age of Leon Kirchner (1919- 2009), they hurried to realise his Trio (1954) but alas, the composer died during the first day of rehearsal, and they could not collect his advice.
This huge musician, a pupil of Schoenberg, remains unfairly underrated in Europe, while he was an influential figure, revered by his students in the United States. The rich writing fully radiates, Kirchner’s compositional mastery manages to concentrate a proliferation of musical “events” into two relatively concise movements. A complex formal elaboration sweeps impetuously the vast field offered by the three instruments, and creates space according to an expressive spectrum of great emotional depth. We often perceive a sense of concern, in keeping with the composer who was not a peaceful character. A key work in the repertoire for trio, and a challenging execution which allows us to discover other facets of the appassionato talent of our young musicians, never found wanting.
This journey back in time ends with Charles Ives (1874-1954, you will have noticed that the date 1954 is the pivot around which the lives of the three composers are articulated): his Trio seems to start very seriously, but do not be fooled! Soon, the discourse will fall apart, according to the provocative tastes of the insurer-musician, and a potpourri, as usual with him, combine elements of dance-hall folk music with profane and religious songs heard in his youth. The three performers give all their heart and keep a superb aplomb even at the height of the Scherzo’s cacophony, titled TSIAJ (acronym of a tautology between English and Italian: "This Scherzo is a joke")! The velvety expressiveness of the final movement (also punctuated with quotes, but more "classical") comes out only stronger through all this.
The sound recording knows how to be forgotten - which is the best compliment we can address to technician Ryan Streber (relayed on the mix by Thomas Vingtrinier) - with the exception of the initial pizz., a bit too much "in the mic".
An excellent presentation by Hugh Collins Rice introduces these works in detail and biographies of the performers will tell you everything about their journey. Just a small error to report: the back of the case promises texts in English, German and French; yet, with regards to the cellist’s nationality, that language was sacrificed to a Spanish translation. But what a joy to find performers and a composer who, despite their age, are no longer budding since they already bear such beautiful fruit!”
“All the pieces on this disc have a sense of well wrought dialectic, each of the composers wanting us to listen to carefully structured argument. All the works fit into an expressive arc, all are rewarding… The performances from Trio Appassionata are exemplary.”
Planet Hugill – Robert Hugill /11 February 2015
“Modern piano trios, from Ives through to a new commission in a sequence of well wrought pieces.
Trio Appassionata is a group formed in 2007 at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore with performers from the USA, Spain and Brazil (Lydia Chernicoff, violin, Andrea Casarubios, cello, and Ronaldo Rolim, piano). The group's repertoire generally encompasses the great 18th and 19th century piano trios but on this disc on Odradek records the group explores 20th and 21st century American composers in a programme which takes us from the Piano Trio by Charles Ives (first completed in 1911), through Leon Kirchner's Piano Trio (written in 1954), and Eric Moe's We Happy Few (written in 1990) to the new commission gone into night are all the eyes by Thomas Kotcheff (written in 2013).
The disc starts with Thomas Kotcheff's gone into the night are all the eyes, which is receiving its premiere recording. California-based Kotcheff (born 1988) studied at the Peabody Conservatory with the members of Trio Apassionata. His trio takes its title from the first line of a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, from the collection Poems of the Night, though Kotcheff does not intend the piece to be dark or melancholy and it often explores the treble register of the instruments. Kotcheff is interested in the fleeting and the transient, and the opening movement is marked evanescent. This movement is spare, the musical material made up of short motifs and a great deal of use made of silence The constructing is concentrated and taut, and though the musical material is tonal the result is something edgy and slightly uncomfortable. The second movement, volatile, is also spare and taut with scurrying figures interrupted by harsh dissonance, mitigated by the delicate textures and high tessitura so the result is something highly fleeting. The final movement, stark, is the longest (as long as the other two put together) and it sees a change in texture with long intense lines. It is a slow, considered movement; still taut and spare, but rather dark too. Throughout the trio I was struck by hints of some of Bartok's night music.
The final three works on the disc, by Moe, Kirchner and Ives, have an intriguing (and accidental) link. Ives died in 1954, Moe was born that year and Kirchner wrote his trio 1954 too.
Eric Moe's We Happy Few was written in 1990 for the Washington Square Music Society. To an Englishman the title evokes memories of wartime films, but in fact refers to what the composer calls 'the paradoxical artistic economics of chamber music where less is more'. The composer hints that the closing lines of Keats' Ode to Melancholy may offer an indicator to the work's mood:
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
It is in one long movement cast in the form of a lively dialogue between instruments with a certain spareness in the writing. There are jazz-hints particularly in the rhythms, whilst the textures and harmonies are spiky. Throughout there is a sense of dialectic, of well wrought argument with a fine feel of interaction and dialogue between the instruments. All builds to a strongly dramatic and rather edgy climax but then evaporates at the end. The composers refers to the ending as 'becalmed', calling it a 'happy-tragic' conclusion.
Moe studied at Princeton and Berkeley and is Professor of Composition at the University of Pittsburgh.
Leon Kirchner (1919 - 2009) was one of Schoenberg's foremost American pupils and is perhaps the stylistically most European of the composers on the disc. The music of Hindemith, Bartok and Stravinsky was a great influence on him, though he embraced the aesthetics of the Second Viennese Schools. His Piano Trio of 1954 was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. It is written in two nicely balanced movements, Marcato and Largo. The opening movement introduces us to a world which is carefully constructed and richly complex. You are aware of a highly wrought structure, and a lot of Kirchner's writing here concentrates on the strings. The work in fact uses a limited amount of thematic material with the slow introduction to the opening movement setting out the basic themes for the work. Kirchner's knack is to develop this in a highly organised yet undogmatic way so that we can appreciate the well wrought structure without noticing the mechanics. The second movement is not dissimilar in texture to the first, but slower and here presenting an intense concentrated musical argument. The melodic material his highly expressionist in outline and there are some lovely quirky developments musical material.
Charles Ives' Piano Trio was started in 1904 and first completed in 1911. It was subsequently revised and not performed until 1948. In three contrasted movements, Moderato, TSIAJ:Presto and Moderato con moto. The opening Moderato is a great surprise as the work sounds remarkably modern and is not dissimilar to the music in the Moe and Kirchner, and they form a definite arc. Ives writes a series of intense dialogues, for cello and piano (right hand) and for violin and piano (left hand) before combining all the material. The movements of the work are each associated with different episodes in Ives's student days and this movement is self-consciously serious, echoing a talk by an elderly professor of philosophy. The initials in the title TSIAJ:Presto refer to This Scherzo is a joke (!) Here we have the familiar Ivesian pull between complex harmony, opaque textures and popular song, with a series of popular tunes (associated by Ives with a student holiday afternoon) being subject to some of Ives's wildest treatment. The movement moves abruptly into the finale which is more series, and partly a remembrance of a Sunday service on campus. It still includes found material, this time music Ives wrote for the Harvard Glee Club as a learned canon, and the movement finishes with Rock of Ages.
Odradek Records is a non-profit, artist controlled label and many of the recordings are released under Creative Commons licences rather than the traditional All Rights Reserved, thus giving the artists more control.
All the pieces on this disc have a sense of well wrought dialectic, each of the composers wanting us to listen to carefully structured argument. All the works fit into an expressive arc, all are rewarding but require work from the listener. The performances from Trio Appassionata are exemplary.”
“Any chamber music recording that’s so forward-looking that the reward at the end is Ives’s Piano Trio deserves automatic respect.”
Gramophone – David Patrick Stearns / February 2015
“Any chamber music recording that’s so forward-looking that the reward at the end is Ives’s Piano Trio deserves automatic respect. But that doesn’t mean one will enjoy this challenging disc by Trio Appassionata. The group – consisting of violinist Lydia Chernicoff, cellist Andrea Casarrubios and pianist Ronaldo Rolim – serves up an all-American programme that begins with the relatively friendly world premiere recording of Thomas Kotcheff’s gone into night are all the eyes, with first-movement keyboard-writing that recalls the Hungarian cimbalom, an explosive cat-and-mouse game in the second movement and then a final movement that enters more impulsive Messiaen territory. But aside from some thematic connections, these three movements don’t seem to belong in the same piece. Eric Moe’s 1990 We Happy Few, a one-movement work, comes off like an abstract argument among the three instruments, though one struggles to be engaged by what the argument might be about. In both works, the inner need to compose seems to take precedence over the need to communicate.
Though the works by Kirchner and Ives are in fact more dense and hard to parse, this is where the disc finds more solid ground. Even if you don’t immediately apprehend the music, the compositional zeal has palpable charisma that makes repeated encounters with Kirchner, for example, a sort of wonderland of atonal simultaneity. The Ives Trio is a major American chamber work and a particularly characteristic example of the composer’s art, with clouds of harmonic ambiguity recalling the American Impressionist painters with unpredictable mixtures of Americana songs such as ‘My old Kentucky home’. But while the Beaux Arts Trio recording (found in the box-set ‘The Philips Recordings 1967-1974’) attempts to clarify what the music says, Trio Appassionata seem equally if not more interested in how the composer is saying it in a performance with a more vernacular accent. Therein perhaps lies the trio’s limitation: it’s so swept up in the physicality of performance that inner meaning becomes secondary.”
“The execution reflects the performers’ keen awareness of the rhetorical significance that Kotcheff has attached to sonority, resulting in an account that encourages subsequent listening in greater detail.”
Examiner.com - Stephen Smilier / 28 November 2014
“It has been over a year since I have written about one of the releases from Project Odradek, which describes itself as “a new way of doing classical.” That “new way” is summarized on their home page, in which they describe themselves as “The 1st non-profit, artist controlled classical label.” However, I was first drawn to this label not through ideology but through an imaginative approach to repertoire. Over the course of a few days I was drawn to consider the efforts of two prodigious pianists, one of whom, Pina Napolitano, had chosen to record the complete piano works of Arnold Schoenberg, while the other, Mei Yi Foo, had prepared a program of Sofia Gubaidulina, Unsuk Chin, and György Ligeti for her album.
At the beginning of this month, Project Odradek released of recording by Trio Appassionata, a piano trio, whose members (violinist Lydia Chernicoff, cellist Andrea Casarrubios, and pianist Ronaldo Rolim) met and first played together as students at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. It was not that long ago that conservatories focused on preparing students for careers as either soloists or members of symphony orchestras. I take a certain amount of local pride in the fact that the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) pioneered the introduction of a graduate program in chamber music; and, as a result, I take an interest in how other institutions have followed suit.
The new album is a twofold debut. Primarily it introduces the talents of Trio Appassionata. At the same time it also provides the premiere recording of “gone into night are all the eyes,” which Trio Appassionata commissioned from Thomas Kotcheff, who had been a fellow student at Peabody. The remaining selections on the album are also all by American composers and form a pivotal relationship around the year 1954. This was the year in which Leon Kirchner wrote his piano trio, the year in which Charles Ives died, and the year in which Eric Moe was born.
Kotcheff took his title from the opening words of Stephen Kessler’s English translation of a poem by Jorge Luis Borges that was included in the collection Poems of the Night. Each movement is identified by a single adjective:
From the very opening gesture one is struck by the composer’s interest in sonority. There may be some question as to whether those sonorities constitute a reflection on either Borges’ text or Kessler’s translation, but they certainly establish a context of meditative moodiness that fits well with the nocturnal connotations of the composition’s title. The execution reflects the performers’ keen awareness of the rhetorical significance that Kotcheff has attached to sonority, resulting in an account that encourages subsequent listening in greater detail.
More interesting, however, may be their decision to include the Kirchner trio. To be fair, however, I should note that this recording was released only a few days after I had experienced a recital performance of Kirchner’s first string quartet at SFCM. In writing about that performance, I noted that, by studying with Arnold Schoenberg at the University of California at Los Angeles, Kirchner distinguished himself “from the earlier generation of American composers who went to France to learn how to compose American music from Nadia Boulanger at the French Music School for Americans in Fontainebleau.”
Kirchner’s trio definitely shows an appreciation for Schoenberg’s interest “emancipating” dissonance through “composing with twelve tones which are related only with one another;” but the music definitely reflects Kirchner’s effort to establish his own way of doing things. Schoenberg’s influence can be detected particularly through several rhythmic tropes that surface in Kirchner’s score, but there are approaches to sonority that one would not encounter in Schoenberg. There is one particularly magical moment in the first (Marcato) movement in which the violin and cello seem to echo portions (or, perhaps, overtones) of a firmly-struck chord on the piano, creating the sense of enhancing the reverberations of the piano’s frame. The trio also seems to have settled on strategies for establishing a tonic-dominant relationship in the absence of the lexicon of chords defined by a tonal framework. If Kirchner’s first string quartet, composed in 1949, was just beginning to confront this problem, his 1954 trio demonstrates how he was now finding his way in establishing structural relationships.
By contrast it is unclear whether or not Moe has yet found his own way to deal with these matters. His single-movement “We Happy Few” is the longest single track on the recording, clocking in at almost fifteen minutes. However, the listener may find more than a little opacity when it comes to negotiating the overall structure. To Moe’s credit, however, he has developed an imaginative repertoire of techniques for the interplay of the three performers. As a result this may be music that fares much better when the listener is there to experience the performance, since physical presence may establish that this element of interplay has much to do with how the music has been organized and how it may best be experienced.
The greatest disappointment on the recording is the Ives trio. From an academic point of view, one may not be able to find fault in how the three movements of this trio were executed; but the spirit of Ives’ distinctively unique rhetoric is sorely lacking. This is particularly evident in the middle of the three movements, which Ives entitled “TSIAJ” (standing for “This Scherzo Is A Joke”). This is the movement in which he draws upon his vast repertoire of familiar tunes, coming close to throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
Not too long ago I found myself discussing this movement with an SFCM violin student. I observed that identifying the tunes addressed only a part of preparing the performance. I suggested that the spirit of the tunes could only be captured once all the performers had put their instruments aside and tried to sing them. While some of the tunes are strictly instrumental (like the “Sailor’s Hornpipe”), Ives’ music almost always rests on the nostalgic recollection of making music in a highly social setting; and singing is the principal activity in that setting. The members of Trio Appassionata do not seem to have caught on to this social dimension, which is so significant in just about everything that Ives wrote; and the result is a dutiful account that never really engages the listener.”
“… the refined interpretation and originality of the programme deserve on the whole nothing but praise, and here is a disc which does not seem to duplicate any other, which is more that can be said for many releases these days…”
Denis Urval/ 15 November 2015
“Le Trio Appassionata a été formé au conservatoire Peabody de l’Université Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, en 2007. Ses membres sont au violon l’américaine Lydia Chernicoff, au violoncelle l’espagnole Andrea Casarrubios, au piano le brésilien Ronaldo Rolim.
Sur ce disque, nos trois mousquetaires présentent quatre œuvres américaines et les disposent d’une manière originale, en remontant le temps: d’abord enregistrée pour la première fois une pièce de leur ami Thomas Kotcheff (né en 1988), ensuite vient Eric Moe (né en 1954), puis le trio de Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), enfin celui de Charles Ives. Au lieu de hiérarchiser, le disque invite à réunir quatre générations, et à remonter aux sources d’une tradition musicale qui existe bel et bien.
A moins de penser que le dernier Trio avec piano digne d’intérêt a forcément été écrit il y a déjà très longtemps sur le vieux continent, et que tout ce qui mérite d’être connu l’est déjà, on peut tenter la découverte et on risque fort de bien s'en trouver.
La pièce de Thomas Kotcheff, écrite pour cette formation, offre au disque un début assez idéal. Très intriguant dès son début avec ses petites phrases concises, il est facile à suivre dans son plan (un mouvement modéré (« Evanescent »), un second un peu plus agité (« Volatile »), un troisième, le plus long, le plus expansif, qui finit par offrir la « vague lyrique » qu’on sentait venir depuis un moment). Le titre qu’on peut traduire comme « Partis dans la nuit sont tous les yeux » (cela sonne nettement mieux en anglais) est tiré d’un poème de Jorge Luis Borges. Ce qu’on aime bien, c’est que ce n’est pas une musique pesamment référentielle : un peu comme on pourrait croiser des gens dans une semi obscurité et se demander après coup si on ne les connaissait pas, sans arriver à être certain que c’était bien eux, la musique esquive, suggère, mais ne permet jamais de préciser une présence familière (c’est pas Copland, celui qu’on vient de croiser ? Barber ? Messiaen ?).
La pièce « We Happy Few » de Moe est peut-être un peu plus attendue dans le genre “modernisme musical américain” mais c’est certainement une intéressante conversation en musique.
Quand on ne le connaissait pas, on pouvait découvrir il y a quelques années Leon Kirchner, élève américain d’Arnold Schoenberg, avec le disque de ses quatre superbes quatuors à cordes interprétés par l’Orion String Quartet Kirchner : Complete String Quartets (Schoenberg n’a pas laissé de Trio avec piano, mais un exceptionnel Trio à cordes). C’était bien tard, d’ailleurs, pour découvrir Kirchner, car il devait décéder peu après. A mon avis, Leon Kirchner est un compositeur de grande valeur, qui a comme son maître un tempérament de romantique moderne particulièrement passionné et tourmenté. En deux mouvements, son Trio (1954) permet de redire tout le bien qu’on pense de lui : tantôt belliqueux, tantôt pensif et nocturne, c’est ici la pièce qui fait la jonction avec l’héritage viennois de la musique de chambre, et la plus éloignée de l’image standard du compositeur américain (qui est, comme on sait, soit un Gershwin, soit un minimaliste, comme les anglaises sont rousses).
Le Trio de Charles Ives n’est guère joué, mais il mérite de l’être plus souvent. Ecrit en 1904, puis révisé plusieurs fois, il est en trois mouvements : Moderato, puis un génial Presto, aussi nommé TSIAJ (pour « This scherzo is a joke » !), puis un vaste « Moderato con moto ». La notice nous explique qu’il est inspiré par les souvenirs qu’avait Ives de ses années de formation à Yale. Ce sera donc un portrait d’Ives en étudiant tour à tour très sérieux comme on l’est pendant un cours de métaphysique abstruse (premier mouvement, où harmoniquement, il se passe bien des choses), animé d’une bonne humeur non dénuée d’esprit potache (le mouvement central, avec ses citations (« My old Kentucky Home »), et ses superpositions très ivesiennesThree Places In New England), et profondément pieux (le vaste finale, qui serait réminiscent d’un service religieux sur le campus). Donc la musique part un peu dans tous les sens, mais n’est-ce pas la vie humaine qui part dans tous les sens ? Au total, une œuvre très attachante qui permet de se faire une idée précise de l’ambition esthétique d’Ives, inventeur d’un nouveau paysage musical, père fondateur d’un Nouveau monde aux aspirations généreuses.
Si on peut trouver un petit son à Lydia Chernicoff, l’interprétation soignée et l’originalité du programme n’appellent dans l’ensemble que des éloges, et voilà un disque qui ne semble faire double emploi avec aucun autre, ce qu’on ne peut pas dire de beaucoup de parutions ces temps-ci, n’est-ce pas.”