Leonore Piano Trio / Gemma Rosefield

Matthews: Piano Trios

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England's Toccata Classics label has issued several albums devoted to contemporary composer David Matthews, and this one makes a fine starting place if you're curious. Those perusing the graphics will find comparisons with Beethoven, Bartók, Britten, Michael Tippett, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, and, if you delve a bit deeper, Schoenberg and Mahler. It sounds preposterous to say that these influences could be combined, but that's where the appeal of this music lies. The three piano trios, from 1983, 1993, and 2005, match their traditionalist medium with clear sonata forms and generally tonal orientation. Yet the music is not neoclassic in effect. Broadly, you'll hear vernacular rhythms that remind one of Bartók; the rigorous polyphony of Tippett; the well-made, direct appeal of Britten; big tunes -- good ones -- that alternately bring to mind Shostakovich or Vaughan Williams; deep chromatic harmony that seems at times to hark back directly to early Schoenberg; and, in the languorously transcendent finales, a bit of Mahler, at least as much as a piano trio can be like Mahler. Everything's familiar, but the sum total of the elements is like nothing you've heard before. The three Journeying Songs, Op. 95, for solo cello are attractively written for the instrument and played by Leonore Piano Trio cellist Gemma Rosefield, but the weaving of disparate elements in these works is not so colorful. The piano trios are remarkable works, however, and the performances spot-on. The engineering, in an unspecified location, is all that could be desired, and the notes by the composer are well worth your time.

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