The Trio is in four movements which follow one another with but a short pause between them. It was originally scored for clarinet, bassoon and piano, but – especially in Russia – the music is more often heard in the version for violin, cello and piano recorded here. The original use of wind instruments may have led Glinka to encapsulate the work into four relatively brief movements; in any event, the Trio is beautifully composed and proportioned.
Another extraordinary aspect to the work is its date: whether begun in the late 1820s (when Beethoven and Schubert may have been alive) or 1832, it is a remarkably assured composition, a genuine budding (rather than flowering) of early Romanticism against a relatively strict classical four-movement structure. It is in D minor, and Nicholas Slonimsky once concluded his thoughts on the work by saying that the ‘Glinka Trio reflects the cultured westernised fashions of the upper classes in feudal Russia’ – a comment with which it is difficult to disagree, assuming that we keep two things in mind: the date of its composition, and that it appeared before the ‘Russianisation’ of Glinka’s music.
The Trio is prefaced by a quotation in French, which may be translated as ‘I have known love only through the unhappiness it causes’. In 1832 Glinka had several love affairs, none of which lasted. No doubt his lack of amatory success led him to express his unhappiness in the slow movement of the Trio. The sturdy first movement announces a serious mood in a wholly integrated exposition. The writing is remarkable for a 28-year-old composer of the time whose training had both begun late and was somewhat spasmodic. The exposition’s two themes (and the movement’s textural qualities, particularly a unison descending phrase which punctuates the music at strategic points) are admirably balanced and cleverly worked. The emotion is also finely controlled, and the fleeting Scherzo and Trio does not let the sense of forward momentum overshadow the contained power of the opening movement. If there is relatively little in the first two movements to warrant the ‘pathétique’ appellation, in the ‘Largo’ Glinka’s deeply felt emotion is kept on a relatively short chain, although the structure – a lengthy first part featuring the violin, succeeded by a second varied restatement on the cello, and a third (in which the piano writing is more decorative than merely supportive) – permits the emotional expression to be crystal clear.
The finale retains the tragic character of the slow movement. This is no ‘brilliant’ finale, but a surprisingly passionate conclusion which at times recalls Beethoven. If one feels the relative brevity of this movement does not fulfil the implications of the material, (the ending is somewhat abrupt), in the overall structure the movement’s sense of balance is far from being ill-judged. Glinka’s Trio remains a genuine and, in its singular way, seminal work in the annals of Russian chamber music, ending with a descending chromatic phrase that presages the opening and closing bars of Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque Opus 9.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2001