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Music for Three: Piano Trios

Ives: Trio
Cage: Music for Three

CD Review

The background to this release is not encouraging. At just under 53 minutes the timing is short and if the idea was to feature American piano trios Copland's Vitebsk, for example, could easily have been added. Then the mediocre notes in the CD booklet consist of just over two pages when there are more than nine pages of blurb about other releases. And it has taken five years since recording to get the CD onto the market. This hardly shows enthusiasm for the music or these performances. Fortunately, matters improve with the actual playing.

The Ives Trio is a substantial piece, dating from about 1914, with much of its weight in the last of the three movements, which is much longer than the first two put together. The opening Andante is lyrical and gives the impression of being well-behaved by ending in C major. This merely tranquillises the listener since the scherzo TSIAJ (This Scherzo is a Joke) is one of Ives' craziest concoctions with everything thrown in - according to J. Peter Burkholder (in his book 'All made of Tunes') over 25 tunes are quoted, some six unidentified. The obscurity of some tunes is because they are student songs Ives knew at Yale. The finale is ruminative and ends most impressively with a version of the hymn-tune which Ives knew as 'Rock of Ages'.

There is a competing American recording of the Trio on an all-Ives CD with Dicterov, Stepansky and Margalit on EMI Classics CDC 5 55406-2. This is more idiomatic and better recorded but these German players are never less than spirited in the rough-and-tumble.

Their Cage seems to be a first recording of this assemblage from the 'Music for ...' series dating from 1984-87. It starts with over half a minute's silence - there's nothing wrong with your CD player - and lasts half an hour. The separate parts were composed independently so that any units in the collection can be brought together. The textures for each player are alternately static and active so that attention focuses on unpredictable interactions - or inactions. At half an hour on this oddly balanced CD this performance feels indulgent but there's plenty of variety and this is authentic Cage, although not an essential purchase now there's so much available.

Copyright © Peter Dickinson, March 18th 1999


Music for Three: Piano Trios

Ives: Trio
Cage: Music for Three

Werner Bartschi (piano)
Martin Numelter (violin)
Wen-Sin Yang (cello)

Koch Musica Mundi 3-6714-2

DDD                                        51m



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