Arthur Foote Chamber Works

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Arthur Foote Chamber Works

  • Piano Trio No. 2
  • (3) Character Pieces
  • (3) Pieces

Arthur Foote merits—pun unavoidable—a footnote in histories of music as the first American composer to be trained entirely in his native country. Nothing in the compositions recorded here hints at a burgeoning national idiom, but they are polished and pleasant in the European romantic manner, and several cuts above mere salon music. Foote may have lacked the genius, the power of personal expression, that fired such close contemporaries in Europe as Elgar, Sibelius and Janacek. But he learned his lessons well: he was more than a mere Boston dilletante.
The notes with this disc make much of Brahmsian associations, yet the music is in general more relaxed—even when aspiring to agitation—than that comparison implies. The Op. 1 cello pieces, published in 1882, reveal a justifiable confidence, and although No. 2—distinctly awkward in harmonic handling and formal proportion—gives indications of deficiencies Foote quickly learned to avoid, even that piece has an attractively flowing main tune. The Op. 9 violin pieces have considerable charm, though it is noticeable that when Foote aims at a certain level of dramatic intensity, pomposity and ponderousness are close at hand. These pieces also had me wishing that Foote had been more critical of the convention of full, plain recapitulation. But I can see why the Trio No. 2 is regarded by those who know as one of his best compositions. In all three movements forms evolve with a natural ease from appealing ideas, and while the piano may dominate the texture too persistently, there is a genuine sense of expressive strength as well as of technical efficiency here.
The analogue recording, dating from 1982, offers piano sound of metallic, percussive weight, and the string tone occasionally grows shrill, but the performances as such are good. More Foote on disc would not come amiss.'

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