Piano Trio in No.1 in d minor, Op.32
Anton Arensky (1861-1906) was born in Novgorod but his family moved to St. Petersburg while he was still relatively young. His first piano lessons were from his mother. He entered the Petersburg Conservatory in 1879 and three years later graduated with high honors. Among his principal teachers was Rimsky-Korsakov. He subsequently taught at the Moscow Conservatory where he befriended and was influenced by Tchaikovsky and Sergei Taneyev.
Piano Trio No. 1 in d minor, Op.32 was dedicated to the memory of the legendary Russian cellist, Karl Davidoff, director of the Petersburg conservatory during Arensky’s time there as a student.
The opening, Allegro moderato, is a big movement built around three themes and opens with a very dramatic subject, clearly influenced by Tchaikovsky, featuring triplets in the piano to a singing melody in the violin, which immediately captivates the listener. It appears throughout the movement including in the coda at the end when it is played adagio as a valedictory. The second subject, presented first by the cello, has the quiet, yet effective elegance of a simple song and a mood of hope. In the second movement, Scherzo-Allegro molto, the strings are given a sparse, though telling, theme which is played against a fleet and running part in the piano. The contrasting trio features a superb waltz, slavonic in nature, and one of many which this composer wrote. It became known as a typical example of “The Arensky Waltz.” The third movement, Elegia-Adagio reaches the heights of lyricism. The lovely sad opening melody is passed from the muted cello, to the muted violin and then to the piano and back again. It is a personal and intimate dialogue between the instruments, evocative of the composer’s friendship with Davidoff. The explosive and dramatic finale, Allegro non troppo, makes brilliant use of themes from the preceding Elegia as well as those of the first movement.
This is unquestionably a masterpiece which should be a staple of the repertoire and heard in concert. Amateurs will be very glad to make its acquaintance.