Trio Ismena www.dacapo-records.dk/artist-trio-ismena.aspx celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. The Trio, whose members are Monika Malmquist (violin), Ida Nørholm (cello) and Christine Raft (piano), have won First Prizes in both the Danish Radio P2 Chamber Music Competition in 2009 and in Trondheim International Piano Trio Competition in 2007. Since then, they have performed numerous concerts in Denmark and abroad, playing in the USA, China, Germany, Spain, Holland, England, France, Italy, Latvia and in the Nordic countries. The trio has studied under Professor Tim Frederiksen and in the Chamber Music Class at the Escuela Superior de Musica Camara, Reina Sofia in Madrid with teachers such as Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Art Trio, Professor Ralf Gothoni and pianist Bruno Canino.
Trio Ismena have a great interest in new music which has led to exciting and developing collaborations with contemporary Danish composers. Indeed, their new recording for Dacapo www.dacapo-records.dk entitled Five Danish Piano Trios features five contemporary Danish works.
Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen (b. 1958) http://svendhvidtfeltnielsen.dk studied composition with Ib Nørholm, Per Nørgård, Hans Abrahamsen and Karl Aage Rasmussen at the Royal Academies of Copenhagen and Aarhus. His Piano Trio, Divertimento (1993) receives here its world premiere recording. In four movements, Arabesque opens with a sudden swirl of strings over a broader piano line. The music finds its way through some fine passages with some lovely individual instrumental details, always keeping a forward pulse despite its varying rhythmic phrases, before slowing as the piano brings a gentle, beautifully phrased coda.
A chord from the piano opens the brief Intermezzo followed by swaying string phrases under which the piano then brings a rippling motif. Nielsen brings some very fine textures, sensitively evoked by these players.
With the Elegy the piano again brings a simple chord to open, after which the strings play a slow melody underlined by piano chords. This is a heartfelt, melancholy theme where rests allow a breathing space for thought. It is beautifully played by Trio Ismena before gently and sadly closing with a hush.
The Finale rises with energy and sparkle in a beautifully woven theme. Centrally there is a quiet, somewhat mysterious section, wonderfully played before a resolute coda.
Jesper Koch (b. 1967) www.edition-s.dk/composer/jesper-koch studied with Andy Pape, Karl Aage Rasmussen, Olav Anton Thommesen and Colin Mathews as well as Ib Nørholm, Hans Abrahamsen and Ivar Frounberg at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. His Piano Trio (2011), receiving its world premiere recording, is dedicated to Trio Ismena and is in three movements.
A broad piano chord opens Symmetries followed by more florid phrases. The strings join, reflecting the theme as the music bubbles forward, often with shifting harmonies. Koch develops some beautifully woven textures before moving through a faster section where the piano brings a pointed light, crystalline motif over which the strings provide a light bubbly texture. The music keeps a forward moving tempo as the music tumbles out. Later there are slow, broad phrases from piano over which gentle, tonally free phrases are played by the strings before a quiet coda.
With Reflections the piano picks out a widely spaced theme with strings quietly adding a background from which the violin brings a theme. There are some exquisite details with the piano soon taking the melody over a light string accompaniment. When the music suddenly picks up the tempo in a spiky staccato section there is still a delicacy retained. Eventually the music slows as the piano takes the opening broadly spaced theme over dying strings. There is a most lovely delicate section behind which the strings soon add a hushed background as the coda is reached.
Piano and strings bring a buoyant Contrasts that darts around quickly, full of energy before the cello and piano brings a gentler melody to which the violin joins. The music picks up again through some vibrant fast moving passages where this trio show very fine precision before leading to a sudden coda.
Lars Hegaard (b. 1950) www.edition-s.dk/composer/lars-hegaard studied guitar with Ingolf Olsen and composition with Ib Nørholm. His work for piano trio Like a Cube of Silence (2010) also receives its world premiere recording on this new disc. In five movements, each section is associated with a piece of text from Robert Musil’s (1880-1942) unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities.
Tempo 88 has a gentle opening as the trio slowly find a little motif and develop it, soon finding a more dynamic stance as the theme moves ahead. There are some lovely shimmering string phrases with Hegaard developing some beautiful moments before the gentle coda.
Molto espressivo e cantabile brings a richly textured theme, serial in nature but always melodic as it weaves its way forward with some terrific little slides and dissonances.
With Tempo 60 the piano introduces a lively theme to which the strings respond, punctuated by brief slower moments. Very soon the music hurtles ahead before another slow section arrives as the theme is drawn into longer dissonant phrases before gently finding the coda.
The trio rise up immediately in Espressivo moto, poco sostenuto with a theme that brings little rippling, upward piano phrases over which the strings develop the melody. Soon the entire trio play a faster staccato section before slowing for the arrival of a richer, longer breathed melody that leads to the end.
Tempo 60 brings a bright and energetic opening punctuated by rests. There are some fine string passages as the theme is taken at suddenly varying tempi to a coda that ends on a single piano note.
Ib Nørholm (b. 1931) www.edition-s.dk/composer/ib-n%C3%B8rholm is ranked as one of the most significant Danish composers of the last forty years. With his ten major symphonies he is, alongside Carl Nielsen, Vagn Holmboe, Rued Langgaard and Per Nørgård, one of the greatest Danish symphonists of the twentieth century. Until his retirement in 2000, Nørholm was Professor of Composition at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, where as head of the composing course he left his mark on the young Danish composers of today. One only has to look at the composers on this disc to see how many studied with him.
His Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 155, ‘Essai in memoriam’ was written for the Copenhagen Piano Trio to whom it is dedicated. The composer says of the subtitle that the work is ‘in memory of music as such.’
In three movements, the piano opens Sereno, soon joined by the strings in a freely flowing melody. It runs through gentler moments and then more strident phrases, which are played with terrific attack. There are constantly changing tempi with a slower section that is quite lovely as the strings bring a real eloquence over finely played piano chords. There are some passage of exquisite detail with lovely harmonies and, indeed, harmonics in the quieter gentler moments before a wistful coda.
Staccato piano and string phrases open the Allegro before the theme flows a little more with some beautifully played moments with pizzicato phrases and richer textures before the coda.
Conflitto brings a rich, broad, melancholy theme interrupted by sudden outbursts. These players display fine control, finding much contrast through a more dramatic section before slowing and quietening for a thoughtful passage. The music picks up again but calms for a quizzical little coda.
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b.1932) www.dacapo-records.dk/en/artist-pelle-gudmundsen-holmgreen.aspx was originally influenced by Stravinsky, Bartók and Hindemith before experimenting with serialism and finally arriving at a ‘new simplicity.’ His Moments musicaux (2006) brings quotations from Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata and Moments musicaux in the composer’s words cut up, ‘mixed and piled on top of one another.’
Talking. Shouting opens with the sound of tuning soon developed with phrases that seem to reflect a kind of conversation with varying phrases and textures. The music becomes very animated perhaps even argumentative before thrusting to a slower coda that concludes with a simple piano note.
With Mumbling a little jogging theme is soon jumbled with fragmented phrases underneath which a theme can be heard, if a little incoherently. This is a spectacularly fine movement creating the effect of incoherence with Schubert just recognisably appearing before a gentle end.
A rising and falling motif arrives for Up. Down. And dreaming but soon the strings create some fine harmonies over the piano motif. A quiet, gentler piano passage brings a Schubertian melody with the strings continuing to bring lovely harmonies. The music moves through some lovely flowing passages before reaching the coda.
Humming. Whispering brings a fast moving string theme to which the piano joins with a slower, broader motif. These string layers really bring free and extrovert moments whilst the piano brings hints of Schubert that soon develop into clearer quotes. The strings add free harmonies around the piano in this remarkably lovely movement, sensitively played by Trio Ismena, growing quieter and slower towards the hushed coda.
This is the sort of disc that Dacapo does so well. Here we have five very fine works that, in different ways bring much enjoyment. There isn’t one disappointing work here.
Trio Ismena provide first rate performances, often bringing a real eloquence. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes.