The Trio was not published until 1947 and, sharing the same title as Rachmaninov’s Op 9, was understandably confused with the latter work. Indeed this confusion has lasted until quite recent times, when the qualities of the first Trio have become relatively better known. Although it is, in length, overshadowed by the later Trio, and as a work of art is not in the same class, Rachmaninov’s G minor Trio élégiaque possesses some admirable qualities, and the work does not deserve to be neglected.
The most striking aspect of this work is how fully characteristic it is of Rachmaninov’s later compositional mastery. In this regard we should cite the use to which the opening theme (on the piano, against a gentle accompaniment from the strings) is put. The rising idea, initially of three notes followed by a major third, is constantly varied by the composer: for what might be called the second subject, in D major, the major third is reduced to a second (producing a scale of four rising notes), and in the developmental central section of this one-movement piece it is extended to a fourth. Inversion and other compositional devices are fully explored here, but all of these aspects of methodology are completely integrated into a score of remarkable thematic unity, varied by subtle rhythmic diversity. The structure is relatively straightforward but by no means unsubtle, being based upon sonata form with certain individual elements (for example, the tripartite nature of the second subject). At times, moreover, Rachmaninov misleads the listener into thinking the recapitulation has arrived before it actually has; only with the surprising restatement of the D major theme (in the same key, and in the same manner) are we wholly assured. The coda restores G minor over a lengthy epicedial pedal and, with it, the first truly elegiac statement of the opening theme, in octaves on the strings, before the final piano chords bring the work to its end.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2000