The eccentric romanticism of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Trio Op. 1 seems made to order for the stirring mix of sensitivity and enthusiasm on the Neave Trio‘s new album American Moments. Korngold wrote the piece in 1909-1910 when he was only 12, decades before he found renown for his Hollywood scores (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex among others). But this gripping string trio sounds in many ways like a mature work. While it stretches the fabric of Straussian romanticism with robust, energized textures and atmospherics, one senses the young composer retaining tight control of his fertile imagination.
The internationally rooted Neave Trio – American violinist Anna Williams, Russian cellist Michail Veselov, and Japanese pianist Eri Nakamura – navigate the piece’s surprising twists and high-romantic themes with dexterity and gusto, and convey its unexpected harmonic motions as ripely as they do its softly sensitive passages. Hindsight is easy, of course, but Korngold seems somehow “cinematic” even in this very early work.
Not as precocious but still youthful, Leonard Bernstein wrote a Piano Trio when he was in college at Harvard in the late 1930s. It suggests the jazzy flowering of his maturity only in the blue notes and dance rhythms of its brief second movement. While its three movements are charming in numerous ways, the young composer was in thrall to too many influences, and one might say his talent wasn’t ready for prime time, at least not in this format. The Neave musicians give it their best, with an assured performance replete with snappy rhythms and tasteful dynamics. And the music certainly does feel American.
Completing the progression of composers from child prodigy to youth to maturity, the album moves on to Arthur Foote, who lived from 1853 to 1937 and wrote his Piano Trio No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 65 in 1909. Pianist Nakamura’s forceful dexterity and violinist Williams’s lyrical sensibility are especially on display during the dynamic drama of the “Allegro giocoso” first movement as the music swings between animated and tranquil. Foote’s strong grounding in German romanticism suited his facility with melody, and cellist Veselov introduces the questioning theme of the lovely “Tranquillo” second movement with thoughtful songfulness that goes on to blend sweetly with Williams’s high notes. In a brief stormy passage the trio achieves an orchestral texture much as they do in the Korngold, and the romantic melodicism continues atop the finale’s loping rhythms.
The sound on this Chandos recording is upfront but not excessively so, and well-balanced, which is very important for chamber works like this. The violin’s highest notes might have been recorded with a bit more fulness. But the overall live quality makes the album a very pleasing listen, and an enlightening introduction to some seldom-heard but very worthwhile music by composers born in, or who made a strong mark in, the United States.