Lovers of chamber music of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, especially in the French tradition, should acquire at once Cedille's bargain 2-CD set of Joaquín Turina's works for piano and strings. Though the Seville-born Turina (1882-1949) is best known for orchestral works with a Spanish flavor, he did live in Paris between 1905 and 1914, studying at the Schola Cantorum established by Vincent d'Indy, and the seven works at hand (dated 1904-1931) have as much a French as a Spanish identity. The Cedille set places the four works for piano trio on the first disc, thus highlighting the core performers of the set, the superb Lincoln Trio, with the Quartet, Quintet and Sextet filling out Disc 2. Cedille's typically excellent sound makes this collection all the more rewarding.
The earliest work in the set is a four-movement Trio in F major, written when the composer was 21. It's quite an accomplished piece, with highlights like a brief scherzo in a graceful 5/4 rhythm and a slow movement that opens with the two string players in moody close harmonies until the piano launches into a lovely salon-like melody. The strongest stylistic influence seems to be César Franck, with a touch of Tchaikovsky in the first movement (a march-like theme that seems to echo the familiar passage following the motto theme at the beginning of the latter's Fifth Symphony).
Turina's official Opus 1 is his Piano Quintet, from 1907. It's quite distinctive, with a slow but impassioned fugue for a first movement and an equally stirring Animé movement that follows. If both movements conjure up Franck (or d'Indy, Franck's pupil and Turina's teacher), so what? The third movement is bafflingly labeled Andante scherzo: it's certainly slow, in an ebbing and swelling 6/8 rhythm, but if there's anything jokey about it, I completely missed it. The finale opens theatrically with cadenzas for both 1st violin and viola, then launches into a propulsive Assezvif, with some exciting use of pizzicato as well as contrasting passages that return to the impassioned mood of the earlier movements.
Isaac Albéniz attended the premiere of the Quintet, and (according to Richard Freed's liner notes for another Turina recording) later met in a café with Turina and Manuel de Falla to talk about writing true Spanish music. Turina later declared, "We were three Spaniards gathered together in that corner of Paris, and it was our duty to fight bravely for the national music of our country." The last piano-and-strings work of Turina's Paris years was a step in that direction: a Sextet for the unusual combination of Viola and Piano plus String Quartet (1912) with a Spanish subtitle, Escena Andaluza (Andalusian Scene). He did give French titles for the two movements, Crépuscule du soir ("Twilight") and À la fenêtre ("At the Window"), but the flavor is strongly Spanish, or perhaps French-Spanish. The Sextet postdates all of Ravel's famous Spanish-inflected music except for Boléro, though it sounds even more like de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain (completed 1916), if not as lush or Impressionistic.
Leaving Paris at 32, Turina spent the rest of his adult life in Madrid, where he was a conductor, teacher at the Royal Conservatory and in his later years (sorry to say) administrator for the Franco regime. His Piano Trio in D major, Op. 35 (officially "No. 1," written 1926) is one of his best-known works: Heifetz and Piatigorsky, for example, included it in their famous concert series, joined by Leonard Pennario. This work, like the Quintet, is unusual in structure: a Prelude and highly atypical Fugue, followed by a Theme and Variations derived from the fugue theme with the variations each in the style of a dance of a different part of Spain. The finale, labeled "Sonata," is based on the themes from the first movement. One senses Ravel hovering in the background of this music, but it's still a highly original work, right from the first piercing high note of the violin through the complex mood shifts of the rest of it.
The Piano Quartet, Op. 67 (1931), in three movements, opens darkly with a four-note theme that will be the basis for the entire work. This work is even more distinctly Spanish in its rhythms, melodic contours, and pizzicati that suggest guitar plucking, though it also shares the sound world of Gabriel Fauré's Piano Quartets at certain moments. The Second Piano Trio, Op. 76 (1933), which somehow combines concision with sudden mood shifts, has perhaps the most perfect balance of Spanish and French styles of any of these chamber works.
Finally, Circulo (1936), subtitled Fantasia for Piano, Violin and Cello, is a more easy-going work than the Second Trio (despite its composition on the eve of the Spanish Civil War), with movements titled Amanecer, Mediodía and Crepúsculo ("Dawn," "Midday" and "Twilight"). Since there does not appear to be a definite program for the work beyond its titles, I can only say that "Dawn" happens very gradually, with radiant joy expressed at the movement's end; and that "Midday" gives us not the stark blazing sun of a Castilian summer, but perhaps a day in early spring with a good deal of genial bustling about, while "Twilight," which follows without pause, gradually settles into complete serenity. Indeed, the final bars echo the first bars of "Dawn," thus closing the "circle" of the title while also following the cyclical structure Turina learned from Franck and other Romantics, and used in all of these chamber works.
The Lincoln Trio give richly committed performances of all these works, and on Disc 2 Ayane Kozasa proves an ideal partner in the larger works, including solo presence in Escena Andaluza. The gorgeous, intense sound of the unison strings in the Quartet, well supported by the piano, is particularly breathtaking, but each of the works has its own excitement.
I found it of great interest to compare the Heifetz/Piatigorsky/Pennario recording on Sony (recorded 1963, released by RCA 1967) to the Lincoln Trio's rendition. As one might expect, the older trio give outsize, characterful individual performances—without ceasing to function as a trio, I hasten to add—emphasized by what seems to be closer miking. The Lincoln players are comparatively discreet, but unbeatable in their sensitivity to one another and overall balance. They play the work notably slower than Heifetz & friends, giving the opening Prelude, for example, a more funereal character—but I mean they present the music as thoughtfully dark, not ponderous.
Cedille's recording, if not quite state-of-the-art, is very fine, bringing out the warmth and beauty of all the players, while giving a clear stereo image of each but with perfect balance and blending. An informative booklet essay by Andrea Lamoreaux is an extra bonus.