Rawlins Piano Trio

American Discoveries

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Members of the Rawlins Piano Trio, consisting of a New Zealander, a Québécoise, and an American, all teach at the University of South Dakota. This CD is entitled American Discoveries, but they have also explored little-known American repertory elsewhere. The music here ranges from newly commissioned (Daniel Roumain's Volvic Maritim) to rare (Henry Cowell's Trio: Four Combinations for Three Instruments) to probably unheard anywhere for decades (the balance of the music on the album). There are some delightful finds. The two male composers active early in the twentieth century both went to Europe and learned to produce competent and not impersonal versions of German Romantic styles. The quite Brahmsian Second Trio in A major of Edwin Grasse includes a movement that sounds quite anachronistic but is actually the most modern of the four: the Tempo di Minuetto (track 3). The short sketches of From My Youth, Op. 5, of Mortimer Wilson have already been partially recorded by the group; they later discovered a previously missing part of the manuscript and returned to the work. They are brief, vivid pieces; the one entitled Waltz of the Negro Dolls, the booklet (in English only) points out, contains in its title "a word that, although unacceptable now, was most respectful in 1911"; the piece forms an interesting chapter in the history of the white perception of African American rhythm. The little trio pieces by Pittsburgh-to-California transplant Anna Priscilla Risher are perhaps the nicest discovery of all. Strictly of the so-called "potted palm" style, they are melodic gems that instrumentalists are invited to adopt as encore pieces that will absolutely baffle an audience trying to guess at their origins. Annotators Richard Rognstad and Susan Keith Gray assert that Cowell's trio was "not in an experimental vein," but in fact its conception is unique. The first three movements feature only pairs of instruments, with the entire trio joining forces only for the very Ivesian finale and its absolutely magical conclusion. The sparse Roumain work is also attractive even if somewhat out of character; it avoids the jazz and hip-hop influences heard in some of this composer's other music. One wishes at times for a bit more rhythmic intensity in the big Romantic pieces, but this release is a fine example of musical archaeology on the part of its performers.

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