P. Scharwenka – Piano Trios & Cello Sonata

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917)
Piano Trio No. 1 in C-sharp minor, Op. 100 (1897)
Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, Op. 112 (1902)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 116 (1898)

Trio Parnassus
Wolf-Dieter Streicher, violin
Michael Gross, cello
Chia Chou, piano

 (1994) – TT 64:02

Serious German Romanticism Lacking Melody and Staying Power


In a nutshell:
• Philipp Scharwenka, brother of the more famous Xaver, writes in a cosmopolitan style drawing upon Brahms, Liszt, and Franck.
• Piano Trio No. 1 in C# minor is the most arresting of the program; solemn, intense, and laden with expressive gravity.
• Piano Trio No. 2 in G major has classical restraint and Mendelssohnian verve, plus a ripping and energetic finale.
• Cello Sonata in G minor is in one movement and explores pathos and drama, but the material isn’t all that memorable.
• Elegant and straightforward performances by Trio Parnassus and good recorded sound.
• I think Philipp’s dark and dramatic violin sonatas are his most accessible and likable works I’ve heard so far.
• I would marginally recommend this disc to chamber enthusiasts who like investigating the periphery of the literature. At the same time, I would encourage exploring these other superior lesser-known piano trios first: FranckSabaneyevLekeuGraener, and Röntgen.

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) gets short shrift next to his more successful brother, Xaver. The two had very dissimilar styles. Philipp, a professor at various conservatories (Otto Klemperer was his pupil) was austere and embraced academic German Romanticism, while Xaver preferred the extroverted salon idiom of Chopin and Liszt. Having heard three recordings of Philipp’s chamber works, I think his output in this field is uneven. In the opinion of the critic Hugo Leichtentritt “Philipp Scharwenka is an absolute master of composition. His violin and cello sonatas, his string quartets, piano trios and piano quintet belong to the most perfect and tonally beautiful works of their type.” Well, I don’t know about that. His violin sonatas made a great impression on me and his piano quintet is imposing, but the cello sonata and 2nd piano trio aren’t at the same level.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in C sharp minor, op. 100 (1897) is the outstanding work here because of its consistently intense Romanticism and lush expressive ideas. It opens with mystery and sadness marked “Lento patetico” and has accretions of tension and yearning that finally erupt into major climaxes. A fast and dramatic scherzo section with a more virtuosic piano part provides textural contrast. The finale exudes urgency and momentum, supported by a fetching theme. Next up, the Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, op. 112 (1902), is a serious work of noble and classical restraint, but not quite appealing by way of memorable thematic ideas. Overall, this work is a bit dry and pedestrian in its effects. The restless opening movement balances tension and buoyancy in a classical mode beholden to Mendelssohn. The second movement aims for a mood of sweet remembrance and melancholy lyricism, but is largely forgettable. An influx of quality occurs in the finale, which is dramatic and pressing in its momentum and rhythmic energy. And that’s the finest movement of this trio. It’s not a bad work, but neither it is very compelling.

The Cello Sonata in G minor, op. 116 (1898) is less rewarding and has fewer memorable moments than the trios, although it shows some originality in its form. It is conceived as a single continuous movement in multiple sections. The mood is sober and melancholy most of the time and frequently embarks on extended cello cadenzas. Faster and brighter sections provide some relief from the minor-key introspection. Here is a case where the form is more interesting than its content, which doesn’t have the sharply-drawn themes of Philipp’s violin sonatas. Performances are fine, as Trio Parnassus is a seasoned ensemble with excellent chops. Recorded sound is good and up to MDG standards.


Scharwenka – Works & Recordings

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