The Neave Trio got high marks here last year for their album Her Voice, a collection of rare pieces by women composers (some might cynically say that even now, anything by a woman composer is rare). But the ensemble had done rewarding work before that record, including their 2018 release French Moments – streaming at Spotify – a collection of somewhat less obscure pieces from the Late Romantic period. This music doesn’t dissemble. It’s convivial, translucent and attractive and probably won’t satisfy those who fortify themselves with Bartok or Stravinsky. But the trio rise to this music’s warmly Romantic, finely polished level of craft.
One of these pieces is a nocturne, more or less. Another is wine-hour – or babysitting-hour – music for the idle classes of 19th century Europe. Another is a late composition by a favorite of the era who has fallen out of favor – and it’s good to see this group recording his work.
The nocturne, better known on its home turf than it is here, is Albert Roussel’s Trio, Op. 2. They open the first movement with a warmly but suspensefully crepuscular, almost tremoloing pulse. The music rises to an insistent, almost breathless peak that quickly fades away into pianist Eri Nakamura’s starry diminuendo. The strings – violinist Anna Williams and cellist Mikhail Veselov -carry the next upward drive to a lyrical rondo, some agitation and a whip of a coda.
There’s a wistful, vividly cantabilee quality to the second movement, the group really taking their time with it, Williams’ nimble flourishes contrasting with Nakamura’s emphatic underpinning. Veselov gets a welcome opportunity to darken the lustre in the moodily waltzing, dynamically shifting conclusion, ending almost like a palindrome.
The drinking music is Debussy’s Premier Trio, a student work written when he was 18, shlepping from country house to country house with one of Tschaikovsky’s patrons…and babysitting. It sure doesn’t sound anything like the Debussy we know and love. Schubertian counterpoint, anthemic opening credits-style hooks, a little prescient modal vamping and lighthearted phantasmagoria: pretty stuff, nothing too complicated or unsoothing. The trio are obviously having a good time with it.
Gabriel Fauré’s Trio, Op. 120 is a late work, and the three establish a rather saturnine mood in the initial exchanges of sober cello and glistening night-sky piano. A lush, lilting contentment gains momentum with Nakamura’s steady triplets and a real coup de grace at the end of the first movement. The second has more of an insistent unison pulse; everybody gets more of a workout in the third, Nakamura especially. The first and second, especially, have long interludes of sheer gorgeousness. Even though he managed to outlive Debussy, Faure stayed Romantic to the end.