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Piano Trio No 2 in F minor, Op 73

'Arensky: Piano Trios' (CDA68015)
Arensky: Piano Trios
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Romance: Andante
Movement 3: Scherzo: Presto
Movement 4: Tema con variazioni: Allegro non troppo

Piano Trio No 2 in F minor, Op 73
Arensky composed his Piano Trio No 2 in F minor Op 73 nine years after the D minor Trio: it has no declared memorial purpose, but it was one of the composer’s last works, and considering his poor state of health by this time it might well be regarded as a personal swansong. It also marks a considerable advance in Arensky’s compositional techniques. While the first movement of the D minor Trio fell into clearly marked sections of an almost textbook sonata form, that of the F minor is a more seamless affair. Though the sonata outlines are still there, they are all but subsumed into the sense of ongoing argument. It opens with a restless, serpentine theme, quietly introduced by the piano, that snakes its way through the movement with passion and a certain obsessive quality. The first five notes of this theme, with its questing dotted rhythm, become an especially pervasive element—and they also function as a motto that appears in the other movements. The mood is deeply serious and thoughtful throughout, as befits the sombre F minor tonality. Though there are other thematic ideas, the main theme is repeated, metamorphosed and split up, acting both as the focus for the whole design and as the basis for an intricate but informal process of variation. When the movement has all but run its course, there is a sudden change of character for the coda, which unleashes a harried pursuit to the decisive final cadence.

This time Arensky places the slow movement second. It is a Romance, beginning in almost salon style with a duet for violin and cello introducing the fragrant and delicate main theme on the piano. The development of this theme—in an ever more serious and thoughtful direction, with one disturbing emotional eruption—confirms Arensky’s quality as a master of melody, while the opening bars recur four times with haunting effect. The motto theme from the opening movement appears just before the last of these appearances, which rounds off the Romance with considerable pathos.

The Scherzo somewhat resembles the corresponding movement in the D minor Trio, at least in its general playfulness and its character of a capricious waltz with a cascading piano part. It is a more sophisticated conception, however. The central trio section, led off by the cello, is disarmingly tuneful, although the motto theme can be heard here also. The return of the waltz is truncated.

The finale is a theme and variations, a form that Arensky was very fond of and handled with great skill (as his classic Variations on a theme of Tchaikovsky demonstrates). The reflective theme, announced by the piano, is quite a complex affair, with its hints of canon, and superficially it might seem unpromising variation material; but after the theme’s initial presentation each of the six variations has a strongly drawn individual character, including an exciting Russian dance for the second variation, a rather Chopinesque waltz for the third, a capricious yet full-blooded fourth variation and a further, more sumptuous waltz for variation 5. Several of the variations, in fact, seem to hark back to elements heard in the previous movements, though not as blatantly as in the finale of the D minor Trio. The final variation is passionate, even grandiose, and climaxes in a return of the motto theme before the coda winds down to a final, introspective statement of the finale’s theme in its original form.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2014

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Details for CDA68015 track 7
Scherzo: Presto
Recording date
11 March 2013
Recording venue
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Tim Oldham
Recording engineer
Phil Rowlands
Hyperion usage
  1. Arensky: Piano Trios (CDA68015)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: March 2014
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