Cowell & Semmler: Piano Trios
Liner Notes   Cat. No. NWCRL211     Release Date: 2010-07-01

The Philharmonia Trio: Charles Libove, violin; Alan Shulman, cello; Nina Lugovoy, piano

As always with Henry Cowell, his treatment of the medium is anything but classic, both as to the manner of writing for the instruments and as to formal characteristics. Instead of the usual three- or four-movement scheme of classical chamber music, there are nine sections based on common melodic and rhythmic materials. Indeed, the work has been described as a series of “imaginative, sunny views of a single hit of music from nine different vantage points.” As with the Mosaic and United string quartets composed in the middle 1930's (recorded on CRI 173), with which the present Trio shares stylistic affinities, Cowell has sought to create his own special "sound." Thus he avoids the so-called normal procedure of using the piano as the textural and rhythmic foundation of the ensemble. The piano functions by and large as an independent entity of the tonal texture, with strings playing either soloistically or in duet. The musical material of the trio is treated in widely varied fashion — as sheer melody (first movement),
arpeggio etude (second and seventh movements), chromatic study in oblique motion (fourth movement), chorale (fifth movement), or fantastic scherzo (sixth movement). The harmonic glissandi for 'cello here recall the similar effect used in the third movement of the Mosaic Quartet. The finale — of almost Webernian brevity — seems to break off almost before getting really started, the intent being to create the feeling common to much Indian and Indonesian music of infinite continuity beyond the span of actual sound.

Alexander Semmler's Trio, Op. 40, is a generously proportioned, intensely dramatic four-movement work composed in what might be called twentieth century mainstream idiom—post Hindemithian, yet very personal. Motoric dynamism dominates the opening Allegro con brio. The brooding second movement is characterized by extreme contrasts in dynamics and mood, while the lively pizzicato Scherzo is a light but complex weave of polyphonic lines in which even the piano plays quasi-pizzicato most of the time. The finale is a sophisticated but brilliant Alla marcia molto vivo. As might be expected from a composer-pianist, the writing for the keyboard instrument is highly virtuosic, and indeed this last adjective could be applied to the music as a whole. While the Trio is not cyclic in any strict sense of the word, its four movements represent an organically unified structure, allowing only for brief pauses between movements.


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Philharmonia Trio

Cowell & Semmler: Piano Trios

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Track Listing

Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: I. Largo tenuto
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: II. Allegretto
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: III. Andante
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: IV. Allegro
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: V. Andante sostenuto
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: VI. Allegro
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: VII. Allegretto
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: VIII. Adagio cantabile
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano: IX. Allegro assai
Henry Cowell
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 40: I. Allegro con brio
Alexander Semmler
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 40: II. Moderato assai
Alexander Semmler
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 40: III. Allegro
Alexander Semmler
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Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 40: IV. Alla marcia molto vivo
Alexander Semmler
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