Trío Arbós Plays Evocations of Old Madrid

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EVOCACIÓN DEL VIEJO MADRID / BLANCO: Trio in C. POMPEY: Manolas y Chisperos (Evocation of Old Madrid). GOMBAU: Trio in F# / Trio Arbós / IBS Classical 22015

Trio Arbós, whose recordings of works by Bautista, Kapustin and Remancha I have previously praised, present here an unusual program by three composers unknown to me: Evaristo Fernández Blanco (1902-1993), Angel Martín Pompey (1902-2001) and Gerardo Gombau (1906-1971). The first of these, a piano trio in C, is certainly a lively affair, the first movement of which is subdivided rhythmically as 3-3-2, then two bars of 4, then back to the 3-3-2. Blanco has other surprises in store for us as well: the music is largely tonal but takes some unexpected twists, including augmented chords. The second movement has a fast-running bass line on the piano that almost sounds like a Spanish version of boogie woogie while the two strings play a more lyrical theme consisting of whole and half notes above it. This is clearly not cerebral music, and from the point of view of classical construction it just barely passes muster, but it surely is fun to listen to. There’s a slow section in the middle where even the piano relaxes a little, playing what sounds like café music. This leads without pause into an equally lively third movement.

Pompey’s Manolas y Chisperos is an entirely different affair, lyrical if slightly bitonal in the tradition of modern French music of the 1920s and ‘30s with a Spanish accent. I don’t think I need to point out, at this point, that Trio Arbós is absolutely outstanding in their interpretations and, more importantly, their rhythmic accents. Too often, even today, chamber groups (and larger forces) that try to perform music like this stumble over the rhythms, making them too foursquare. Just listen to almost any modern group that tries to play Artie Shaw’s Concerto for Clarinet and you’ll immediately know what I mean. Unlike Blanco’s piece, which is quick and almost breathless in its excitement, Pompey’s takes its time, developing more traditionally but not without imagination. At 6:30 into the first movement, we suddenly shift to very Spanish rhythms while still maintaining the flow of the music set up earlier, and again Trio Arbós handles this rhythmic shift beautifully. The second movement is “Tiempo de bolero: Allegretto,” and this, too, is played with perfect rhythmic acuity. (Note: one of the great misunderstandings among musicians, old and new generation, is that Ravel’s Bolero is not meant to be played at the traditionally fast bolero tempo, but rather in a slow, dragged-out bolero with blues inflections. This error is made over and over again by virtually every conductor with the exceptions of Ravel himself, Arturo Toscanini [his NBC broadcast] and Simon Rattle. Everyone else completely misses the point.) My complaint about this work, however, is that for me Pompey dragged everything out too much. Not only do the movements overstay their welcome, but there are too many of them (five), and to my ears they don’t say very much, being too repetitive in material.

Gombau’s Piano Trio in F# is written in much more modern harmonic language but, again, not forbidding to the casual listener, particularly since it is steeped in Spanish folk rhythms. His music’s style lies somewhere between the works of Blanco and Pompey: more structured than the first but livelier and not as long-winded as the second. Each of its four very terse movements runs less than five and a half minutes, the last one being only 3:47, and Trio Arbós digs into this music with zest and enthusiasm. This piece would make a great closer on the program of just about any piano trio, provided that they can play it as well as this. Surprisingly, the second movement begins as a very gentle waltz played solo on the piano before the strings move in with unusual harmonies to take over one’s attention. Eventually the piano simply plays slow arpeggios while the strings develop the theme in front, with the piano occasionally adding stronger chords of its own before returning to the sad little waltz, now transformed.

The third movement, marked “Allegro scherzando,” is in a sort of a resolute and slightly uptempo march rhythm, played marcato by the pianist while the strings swirl around him with the theme(s) and variants. In the trio section, the tempo relaxes a bit and the music is more reflective before we pick up where we left off. The last movement, “Allegro assai,” takes off like a rocket with its zippy but irregular syncopated rhythms which include backbeats. This, like the Blanco work, is a real tour-de-force and Trio Arbós is fully up to the music’s demands.

With the exception of the first and third movements of the Pompey work, this is an exceptional CD, full of life and energy. Well worth checking out!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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