How rare is a CD devoted to oboe-viola-piano trios? Rare enough so that on Cedille's new release, the "warhorse" is Charles Martin Loeffler's Rhapsodies, and a piece for heckelphone in place of the oboe provides the final 15 minutes of the disc. But this is not at all to say that the music is unworthy of attention: to the contrary, it's a highly enjoyable program with passionate playing from an eminent group of performers.
Alex Klein is the Brazilian-born former principal oboeist of the Chicago Symphony, while Richard Young was violist of the Vermeer Quartet, with whom Klein played in a recent Cedille disc of music of Benjamin Britten and Arthur Bliss (90000 093). They are joined here by a second Brazilian, the award-winning pianist Ricardo Castro. Poetic Inspirations is a rather pedestrian but still somewhat apt title for their CD, since three of its five works are based on poetry texts.
The disc opens with the 1872 Schilflieder (Reed-Songs) by one August Klughardt. Dedicated to Franz Liszt but perhaps showing a little more influence from Robert Schumann, this five-movement work is based on five poems by Nikolaus Lenau, all about a lover mourning his lost beloved as he lingers beside a pond with reeds along its banks. (One poem was used also by Alban Berg for one of his Seven Early Songs for voice and orchestra.) The moods alternate between gentle melancholy in the odd-numbered poems and moderate storminess in the even-numbered. Overall this is a quite lovely work, a perfect example of 1870s German Romanticism in a non-Wagnerian vein, not excessively heart-on-sleeve, with tender melodies and gentle — but expert and varied—interweaving of the three voices. Richard Young's program note suggests that in the last piece, at least, the viola is the "still-tormented soul" of the poet and the oboe is the lost love. I tend to hear it more abstractly as an interplay of the three instruments, though I will say that Young seems to play with more heated expression while Klein tends toward a more Apollonian purity of tone.
The 1901 Rhapsodies of the German-born, Boston-based Loeffler are impressions of two poems of Maurice Rollinat, with "The Pool" describing a ghastly pond in an Edgar Allen Poe world and "The Bagpipe" evoking a spectral player in a dark woods. The poems are almost too-neat examples of French Decadence, but Loeffler's music, while rhapsodic enough, strikes me as more robust, almost pastoral, and verging on cheer in places. Maybe the Decadent elements were tempered by Bostonian heartiness. In any case, the second movement uses the oboe handily to evoke a bagpipe at certain moments, with the viola as its drone. For comparison I listened to a classic performance featuring violist Milton Katims (NBC Symphony under Toscanini, among many other accomplishments), oboist Harold Gomberg (New York Philharmonic) and pianist Dimitri Mitropoulos (conductor of the New York Philharmonic) on a mono Columbia LP (ML 5603, with the Hindemith Oboe Sonata on the other side. The Loefflerhas been reissued on an Ambassador CD commemorating Katims). I must say I found the older performers more rhythmically incisive in the "Pool" movement, with more of a sense of suspense and drama, though Cedille's performers are hardly slouches, and they are equally sprightly in the faster section toward the end of this movement. For the dreamier, more seemingly improvised "Bagpipe" movement it's a tossup, with Cedille's excellent recording putting the trio's gorgeous sonorities on display.
The other poem-inspired work on the disc is British composer Felix White's 1921 The Nymph's Complaint for the Death of her Fawn, based on Andrew Marvell's work of that title. The poem may be an elaborate allegory of some kind, much debated among modern scholars, but when White wrote his 8-minute piece, the text was usually taken to be a simple though elegant lament of a woodland sprite over hunters' having killed her pet fawn, a gift from her faithless lover. The music begins and ends with a lyrical (i.e., slow-paced but not plodding) lament, with a faster middle section that Ricardo Castro hears as a "nervous and breathless chase," though one could imagine it just as easily as the fawn's gamboling through the woods in happier times.
The shortest piece on the program, less than three minutes, is Modinha, written for Klein by his classmate Marco Aurelio Yano when they were students in Sao Paolo in 1984, soon after Klein had discovered the Loeffler Rhapsodies. Klein, who has recorded Yano's Oboe Concerto for Cedille [90000 079], hears a Japanese influence in this lovely melancholy piece (Yano was a Brazilian of Japanese parents), though if I had been told the work was by Villa-Lobos I would not have been surprised. The title, according to Klein's program note, refers to a "traditional melody in Brazil."
To close the program, Hindemith's 1928 Trio is a refreshing blast of brisk air, its vigorous modernism in great contrast to the Romantic languor of much of the rest of the disc. This piece was written for heckelphone, a double-reed instrument occupying a space between the English horn and the bassoon, introduced by Wilhelm Heckel's bassoon company in 1904, and used by Richard Strauss and some other German composers. Young's program note describes the instrument but doesn't mention that Klein uses a bass oboe instead, according to the fine print on the copyright page. In any case, the work has an odd structure. The First Part, in three connected sections, opens with a brief "Solo" for piano (marked "very lively, stormy"), followed by an "Arioso," a stately, dark-colored duet for piano and heckelphone, then a fast "Duett," in which the viola finally joins the others. The Second Part, labeled "Potpourri," is all fast and contrapuntal, breathtakingly energetic. Cedille's trio offer spectacular virtuosity and rich sound, the viola, often at a higher range than the bass oboe and the piano, often taking the lead.
The players double as skilled program annotators, and Cedille provides the full Marvell poem and English translations of the others.