ROTA: Trio for Flute, Violin & Piano. CUI: Five Pieces. SCHOENFIELD: 4 Souvenirs for Violin & Piano. Last Silence for Flute, Violin & Piano. IBERT: Deux Interludes / Martha Aarons, fl; Lev Polyakin, vln; Frances Renzi, pno / Azica ACD-71334
As you can see from the cover for this CD, it is being marketed on Paul Schoenfield’s name—not because he is the only composer on the disc (which you’d be led to believe) or even the most famous composer (all in all, I’d think that Jacques Ibert is probably the biggest name here, though Nino Rota and Cesar Cui are also well known), but because Last Silence is the sequel to his biggest hit as a chamber music composer, Café Music. Although this is true, it’s a bit of deception.
Nonetheless, the music is all good and, more importantly, played well by our three intrepid soloists. Since all of them are named individually on the cover and inlay, they apparently don’t have a name as a working group, but as the tight ensemble in the opening of the Rota Trio will show you, they are certainly as good as any name trio out there. The music of this trio is generally of a light nature, much of it using fast, repeated 16th-note figures in the piano part around which the flute and violin revolve like spinning tops.
The Cesar Cui pieces are also of a light nature, almost sounding like Russian children’s music. I’m sure that Cui must have written these as a gift for a child; they are not terribly difficult to play, and have a lot of charm.
But the atmosphere changes in a heartbeat as Polyakin and Renzi launch into Schoenfield’s 4 Souvenirs for Violin & Piano. This jazz and klezmer-influenced music seems to awaken something different and even more vital in their artistic juices; they attack the music with so much gusto that you might almost think they were different musicians from the ones who had just plated Rota and Cui. The second movement is a tango reminiscent of 1920s and early ‘30s music (think of Gade’s Jalousie) but for the harmonic twists that Schoenfield puts into it.
Between the two Schoenfield pieces, we get the two Interludes of Jacques Ibert: elegant but also somewhat light music, evoking sunny mornings on the boulevards de Paris and played here with exquisite lightness and charm.
Then it’s back to Schoenfield, but in this case I’d have to say that Last Silence is an even more complex piece than either 4 Souvenirs or the more famous Café Music. Here, Schoenfield creates a much more atmospheric environment, opening with a surprisingly complex “Overture” that, for all its jazz or klezmer influences, is more bitonal, reminding one of French music of the 1920s mixed with a touch of Antheil or William Grant Still. It has rhythmic buoyancy, but also an atmosphere about it that is tangible; a brief violin spot during this overture almost put me in mind of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Moreover, the “Berceuse” that follows is likewise more somber than the average piece with that title, played mostly by violin and piano without the flute. Even the succeeding “Polka” is a surprisingly slower piece in that style, and written in a minor key which is something polkas are never in. “Andalusia” is primarily a violin solo, again a somewhat doleful piece. Only the finale, “Serbia,” is really lively in the Schoenfield style that characterized Café Music.
Yet this talented trio plays it extremely well, though in this piece pianist Frances Renzi doesn’t catch the syncopations as well as she did in the 4 Souvenirs. All in all, a lightweight but very enjoyable album that will brighten up a dark day except for some of the pieces in Last Silence.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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