Bernt Lysell, violin
Björn Sjögren, viola
Lucia Negro, piano
First things first. Do note that this piano trio is for violin, viola, and piano, with no cello. You’ll notice in the recording.
Also, it’s an extra installment of our SQS on Friday, because there is lots of Swedish chamber music from the mid-to-late 19th century, and what of it I’ve listened to is very worthy of attention. Upon seeing the wealth of works listed by composers I’ve never heard of, I decided I’d try to include some new people in the weekend series to work in some more names, perhaps of people who didn’t write symphonies but gave us charming chamber music. I make a few exceptions, and Lindblad is one who gets two works in the series.
Today’s trio is delightful, although I question the decision to use viola rather than cello. At least in this recording, it is at times very faint, not quite standing up to the brightness of the violin or fullness of the piano like a cello would, but perhaps it is exactly what the composer wanted. Regardless, what we have is a delightful, warm, spirited, fragrant piece of music.
It reminds me a bit of Lindblad’s symphony from yesterday, but it seems his strengths (if one can summarize a composer’s entire oeuvre in only a few works) shine more brightly in this chamber work, those being a clarity of theme, development, a straightforwardness that allows the work to be easily understood but still offers a rich journey of musical exploration.
This is evident in the first movement, which opens with an important figure in violin, echoed by viola, contrasted by a response from piano, and in those first few bars, we have the basic building blocks of the movement. There’s no lengthy introduction, no twists and turns, no trickery, at least at the beginning anyway. We’re presented with the main characters at the get-go, and there’s maybe a risk in doing that. If you’ve shown all your cards at the start, what is there to do? Well, Lindblad has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and he gives us a first movement made of such simple, straightforward elements, but woven into a spectacular fabric of a movement. It’s easy to follow yet quite dashing. It’s a trick that wouldn’t work with a fifteen-minute first movement, but we’re working on small enough scales that the first movement is full of engaging beauty, simple charms, and satisfying musicality. Those opening figures vanish and reappear, giving a narrative to the work that’s easy to follow while not boring.
The second movement is a vivid, colorful scherzo, with the slightest touch of mischief that manages to stay largely benevolent and playful in character. It’s Brahmsian, in a way, reminding me a bit of his scherzo in E-flat minor, which is never really brooding or evil, but suggests it might want to be. The three performers in the ensemble tiptoe and dance around each other, peak around corners, call-and-answer, and the texture and color created by effective use of the piano, strings, at times plucked, others bowed, and dynamics (and likely an inspired interpretation) give this little movement a quality that I can only describe as pleasantly gripping. The trio is more straightforwardly sunny but does obviously return back to the scherzo to wrap up the movement.
In contrast, the third movement is quiet, peaceful, with a lullaby-like central passage led by piano. The viola shines here in a way that the cello might not have been able to. The strings sing richly at times over the form cast by the piano, and in turns it seems almost more like a duet between the piano and a heavenly, complex, richly-bowed string instrument, such is the writing for the two strings. I get the same sense of both depth and simplicity from this movement (and the whole work, really) as I would from the more household-name early Romantic-era composers. There’s a charming intimacy, an approachableness, but overall a solid musicality, the kind of writing that it seems would make it at least as enjoyable to play as it is to hear. Up to this point, is there any reason not to enjoy a work like this?
The final movement isn’t a long one, but it’s lively, and the piano leads, with strings stepping into place shortly thereafter to create a striking level of forward motion in this finale, an almost aggressive energy that quickly mellows into a genial conversation among friends. The regular appearance of certain figures in the movement gives us a very clear idea of the elements at play, how they’re transformed, establishing an intricacy that manages not to be too dense and maintains its lightness. It’s this character that was apparent at least in the first movement of the symphony that I feel shines through here even more.
It really is through chamber music that one can get a clear idea of a composer’s personality, his voice in music, and most of the composers we’ll be discussing this month have composed chamber works of some kind, so maybe I should have given more consideration to featuring both large and small scale works of the Swedes on my roster. At the very least, if you see some glimmer of beauty, something that jumps out at you, then for sure go do some listening to their chamber works, if they exist or have been recorded. I’ll say the most common thing, perhaps, in all of Swedish music, is song. Some of the composers we’ll be discussing wrote hundreds of Swedish songs, for performers like the famous Jenny Lind. Unfortunately, that’s beyond the scope of this series, which already has my September bursting at the seams. There’s a long handful of other works and composers I would like to be able to include if I had the resources (time, scores, recordings, Swedish language skills), but there’s already a ton of music on the way.
Do stay tuned. We’re saying goodbye for now to Herr Lindblad and will be catching up this weekend with a few probably even lesser-known composers, at least outside of their mother countries. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something we can do to change that. See you soon.