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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Deux trios brillants, Op.211 for piano, violin and cello (c. 1830)
No. 1 in C major [22:46]
No. 2 in A major [20:31]
Trois sonatines faciles et brillantes, Op.104 (1827)
No. 1 in G major [9:56]
No. 2 in C major [8:50]
No. 3 in A minor [[8:10]
Sun-Young Shin (violin); Benjamin Hayek (cello); Samuel Gingher (piano)
rec. 2016/17, Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
World première recordings
NAXOS 8.573848 [70:12]

Most piano students will surely have encountered the name of Carl Czerny as they progressed from one stage of their learning to the next. Virtually all will associate him with the myriad of scales and technical exercises which he so diligently crafted for beginners right through to advanced players, and which still have their place in modern piano pedagogy.

But his output was far more wide-ranging than this would suggest, and it is so good to see an increasing amount of this appearing on CDs. He actually published some 861 opus numbers in virtually every field, except opera. He was clearly an extremely methodical and well-organised person, and had four distinct categories for his works: namely, studies and exercises, easy pieces for pupils, brilliant concert pieces, and serious music. The ‘brilliant’ and ‘serious’ categories include seven symphonies, eleven piano sonatas, piano trios, string quartets, concertos, masses, choral music, songs, and numerous variations, transcriptions, and piano arrangements for two, four, six and eight hands – to name but a few.

Deux trios brillants – the two works that comprise his Op.211 were published in 1830 by Diabelli in Vienna. The first work opens with a traditional ‘call to attention’ first subject, where, unsurprisingly, scale-passages and arpeggios are prominent, before leading more lyrically into the second subject in the dominant – all good text-book stuff here. These are fully-fledged piano trios, in the sense that they aren’t intended as works for piano, with obbligato violin and cello parts. But at times the two string instruments are placed too far back in the overall sound-stage, which, while allowing every nuance of the piano part to sing through unopposed, does mean that counter-melodies sometimes receive less prominence than they merit. Equally the string playing sounds occasionally unnaturally thin, especially when compared with the prominence often afforded to the pianist’s right hand. However, the ear eventually adjusts to this, and it is fair to say that most of the action lies with the piano anyway. Czerny's slow movement is in the dominant key, and very easy on the ear, with the customary modulation to the minor for its middle section. The Rondo Finale is a decidedly jolly little number, and it’s quite easy to see an onward progression from Czerny through Hummel, and eventually on to the likes of Saint-Saëns, in terms of the piano-writing. Once again Czerny keeps perfectly to the rule-book, as far as Rondo form dictates, but it’s all catchy enough, and the composer makes full use of the keyboard throughout. Then, just when you thought it was all over, Czerny cranks up the tempo to add some extra fun just before the close, while tossing a few more keyboard tricks into the mix.

The second Trio in A virtually offers more of the same medicine, just in a different key and change of metre. This should not actually surprise, as Irish composer John Field, who visited Czerny in Vienna, made mention of a kind of composing ‘factory’ where Czerny apparently would have trusted musical associates adding to, and completing compositions started by the Austrian, somewhat along the lines of musical sub-contractors, though this would largely involve copying and transposing passages, rather than composing things afresh – something that today’s music-notation programmes like Sibelius, and the newer Dorico can now take care of single-handedly. A lyrical Andante allegretto in this second trio, more elaborate than its predecessor, ends on an imperfect cadence, or half-close, paving the way for a direct link to the Finale. Here, Czerny has added a little bit of Mediterranean sun, by couching his closing Rondo as a Bolero. Again, though, the sometimes rather backward placing of the strings does make the occasional col legno – hitting the string with the back of the bow – somewhat hard to distinguish from some spurious background sound in the studio, and which, incidentally, also happens with some pizzicato playing elsewhere on the CD. Once more Czerny adds a little extra zip at the end, by tweaking up the metronome mark somewhat.

Keith Anderson’s helpful and informative sleeve notes point out that the first two works on the CD were officially designated ‘for piano, violin and cello’, whereas the Trois sonatines that follow are for ‘piano solo with accompaniment from violin and cello’, still a quite common description in 1827, when Op.104 was published, again by Diabelli in Vienna. Unlike the Trios, these are just two-movement works – an opening fast movement followed by a Rondo in the first two instances, and a Theme & Variations for the third of the set. Ironically, though, from the first few bars of the first Sonatine, the cello part is more prominent than in the earlier Deux trios, despite the fact that, here, it is really only reinforcing the piano’s left-hand part. This also tends to apply proportionately to the violin, too, which is a pity, since this should have been more the case with the Trios than with the Sonatines. It may be just a coincidence that, while the same recording venue was used for all the works on this CD, the Trios were recorded something like a year earlier than the Sonatines, so the relative recording levels could have been slightly different for both sets of works. The first two Sonatines are entertaining enough, if not designed to set the world alight. The opening Allegro molto of the Third Sonatine does owe slightly more to Beethoven, than any of the other movements in the set – particularly the key change at the start of the development. Anderson picks up on the fact that Czerny then adds a pause (or fermata) in the score, just before the ensuing recapitulation. Unfortunately, he wrongly assigns this to the ‘second movement’ of the third Sonatine, whereas it actually occurs in the ‘first’ movement. He informs us that Czerny intended the keyboard player to include a short improvised passage at this juncture, and confirms that this is indeed what pianist Samuel Gingher does on the present recording. Apart from this, the closing movement is rather an understated affair, with none of the panache seen at the close of its counterparts in the later Deux trios.

It’s always good to have more from Czerny, and virtually everything on the CD is light and entertainingly undemanding to listen to, while offering some further insight into the development of the piano trio itself. Gingher’s contribution is always neat and most articulate, as well as sensitive within the context. His fellow string-players don’t come off as well, however, largely due to the balance overall of this otherwise well-recorded disc.

Philip R Buttall

 

 




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