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English Piano Trios
Rosalind ELLICOTT (1857-1924)
Piano Trio No. 1 in G Major (1889) [28:54]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Piano Trio in E Minor (1893) [8:48]
Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960)
Celtic Prelude: The Land of Heart's Desire (1921) [7:10]
James Cliffe FORRESTER (1860-1940)
Trio: Folk Song Fantasy (1917) [13:00]
Harry Waldo WARNER (1874-1945)
Piano Trio in A Minor, Op.22 (1921) [19:40]
Trio Anima Mundi
rec. 2017, Music Auditorium, Clayton, Australia
DIVINE ART DDA 25158 [77:35]

Though they’re not quite programmed chronologically there is a sure sense of stylistic development in these five British piano trios, as they progress from the barely known Rosalind Ellicott and her 1889 Trio to that by Harry Waldo Warner, a prize-winning work of 1921.

Ellicott studied with a student of Sterndale Bennett and there seems to have been a small vogue for her orchestral music in the 1880s before she gradually turned more to chamber works. Little of her work, though, seems to have been performed after 1900. The Trio is a sturdy three-movement piece, elegantly crafted, genial in outlook, showing signs of Brahms’ influence in places, and Mendelssohn’s in others, most notably the avuncular finale. The highlight is probably the central slow movement, whose dignified melancholy is conjoined with a flowing lyricism, the switch back from the central Poco andante to the Adagio finely judged. Coleridge-Taylor’s Trio is a very early work, written in 1893, around the same time as his official Op.1, the Piano Quintet. This extremely compact affair – it lasts under nine minutes in this performance – offers telescoped pleasures in respect of its urgent espressione writing, with arrestingly jagged turbulent themes in the opening movement, which is the longest of the three. The Scherzo sounds like it wants to waltz, whilst the finale doffs its cap to Dvořák in a furiant.

On an event briefer span is Rutland Boughton’s seven-minute Celtic Prelude: The Land of Heart’s Desire. It may well be the heart’s desire but is it structure’s finest moment? This was written the year before The Immortal Hour and the notes call it a study-sketch into Boughton’s exploration of Celtic mythology. It’s certainly a lyric-romantic pleasure dome, rich, verdant, and full of bell peals - though possibly even Housman would have had a stern word to say about the amount of bell pealing to be encountered. There’s a folkloric dance section toward the end of this very full, very episodic but engaging work.

Rather more in the way of exploration, rather than episode, comes from James Cliffe Forrester. His Trio: Folk Song Phantasy won the fifth Cobbett Competition in 1917 (in the piano trio category). It’s in three sections, as was so often the case in works written for this important competition, and muses on two folk tunes, the Sussex Rosebud in June – repeated with variants and finely developed - and Twanydillo, bluff and genial and foot-tapping. Forrester seems to be remembered, if at all, for songs but this Trio is an engaging example of his small-scaled art.

A composer of far wider scope was Harry Waldo Warner, violist of the London String Quartet from 1908 to 1929, when he was replaced briefly by the apparently irascible Philip Sainton and then in the more long-term by William Primrose. I’ve been agitating for a long time for someone to record Warner’s three String Quartets and his The Pixy Ring suite, probably his most well-known composition. Now here we have what has to be the first recording of his Piano Trio. (Incidentally Divine Art makes no claim to world premiere status for any of these recordings but surely most must be.) Cast in three movements this 1921 trio shows great vigour and metrical flexibility, both pungent and elegant, and with hints of both French models and of then-popular chinoiserie. There’s an especially lovely dolce section in the central movement and lithe rhythmic verve in the exiting finale. This is much the most adept and impressive work in the programme and reveals an insider’s approach to distribution of material and to strong musical argument. Where, incidentally, are Warner’s two operas – are they extant? – and the many songs he wrote. But don’t miss the orchestration of his Suite in D minor, Op.58 on Dutton CDLX7329.

Kudos to Trio Anima Mundi for their finely judged performances and selection of rewarding and unknown repertoire and to Divine Art’s recording balance.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John France (Recording of the Month)



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