Summerhayes Piano Trio

English Romantic Trios

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These four unknown piano trios by English composers, performed by the Summerhayes Piano Trio, are pleasant works full of passion and drama, and very much along the lines of the piano trios of John Ireland and Frank Bridge. Thomas Dunhill was a fellow student of Bridge and Ireland, all of them studying with Stanford, which could explain the heroicism of Dunhill's single movement that opens the album. It has spiritual ancestors in the German Romantic tradition of Schumann and Brahms. Dunhill uses only a couple of long-lined themes -- a smiling lyrical one and one more determined and almost march-like -- to spin out a story, alternating apprehensive uneasiness with pastoral calm and joyful triumph, very much the way Brahms would. Ernest Austin uses a freer harmony for his poetic trio, but it is still warmly tonal and unmistakably Romantic. It is also a single movement, in five sections, with well-designed contrasts in mood, tempo, and texture, and a brilliant ending. The sound of the recording tends to flatten out its sweeping flourishes. The only full four-movement trio here is that by Rosalind Ellicott. It again is written in the Brahms style, but is overall darker and more anxious than the Dunhill. The Scherzo begins lightheartedly, but its Trio is as worried-sounding as the outer movements. Alice Verne-Bredt was originally from Germany and even studied piano with one of Schumann's children, according to this disc's accompanying notes. Her single movement is in contrasting sections, dramatic, ardent, and valiant, and surprisingly is more of a duet for violin and cello. When the piano does get some of the spotlight, it is more flash than substance, set off by pizzicato accompaniment. The other trios here balance the music between the instruments much more efficiently.

Cellist Joseph Spooner has a very rich, singing tone that fits these trios excellently. Unfortunately, Adam Summerhayes' tone sounds thin in comparison, and any sparkle from Catherine Summerhayes' piano is dulled in the recording. Likewise, the trio's intensity seems to be lost, although it plays with enthusiasm and well-placed feeling. These pieces could be more impressive when played with an almost exaggerated passion. Sound aside, however, the Summerhayes Piano Trio does a fine job re-introducing these works to the world.

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