Wolf-Ferrari Piano Trios
Wolf-Ferrari's early piano trios happily augment that modest corpus of chamber pieces by composers who are better-known for their operas. And if neither work could claim a high position in an already richly endowed area of the repertory, both suggest that Wolf-Ferrari could quite easily have adapted his skills to purely instrumental media, had he so wished. The First Trio was written in 1896 when he was just 20 years old and still fresh from three years of study at the Munich Akademie der Tonkunst. The style is reminiscent both of Brahms and Dvorak (the latter most especially in the first movement's exposition), whereas the ends of the outer movements recall the elegiac rhetoric of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio. The blandly tripping second movement combines a touch of paprika with Italianate warmth, the melodramatic Larghetto is rather over-repetitive and although the finale is fairly inventive (annotator John C. G. Waterhouse refers to its ''abrupt, throw-away ending''), I felt this particular performance just a little too cautious for an Allegro vivace assai.
The Second Trio dates from 1900 and recalls the heavily hooded chromatic worlds of Liszt and Franck. The first movement, a brooding, moody and somewhat long-winded Sostenuto, amounts to more than half the work's time-span yet retains its sense of mystery to the end. The second movement is a balmy 'Song without words' while the finale is bright and workmanlike. Wolf-Ferrari's Second Trio is undoubtedly weightier than its predecessor, but I rather prefer the more overtly tuneful demeanour of the First. The Raphael Trio's sympathetic performances are very much on the side of the music, especially in terms of Charles Castleman's violin playing, and the recordings are excellent.'