Piano Trio in c minor
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) needs no introduction. He is justifiably famous for Scheherazade, several operas and many other orchestral works. By the time he came to write the piano trio, in 1897, he pretty much considered himself just a composer of opera. Nonetheless, while on vacation, he composed a piano trio as a sort of relaxation. Although the trio was performed in manuscript privately many times, it was not published until his former student, the composer Maximillian Steinberg, edited it and prepared it for publication in 1939.
Even a cursory glance at this work, which is written on a massive scale, in particular the outer movements, shows that this was a work to which Rimsky-Korsakov devoted considerable effort. The end result is a piano trio from the late Russian romantic era which we feel is a masterpiece. The huge opening movement, Allegro assai, begins with the cello introducing a noble, searching melody. The entire movement, lasting nearly a quarter of an hour, is full of drama and forward motion and a wealth of attractive melodic material. A playful and lively Allegro, which in its first section brings a Mendelssohn scherzo to mind. But the chromatic second subject is something very different. After the scherzo reappears, a gorgeous and lyrical middle section follows. A quiet, haunting theme opens the third movement, an Adagio. But the main subject, which is highly romantic and tinged with sadness, is entrusted first to the cello alone which is given a marvelous solo which takes it high into its treble register. The big finale, also marked Allegro assai, begins with a substantial adagio introduction. This is followed by a short violin recitativo (our soundbite starts here) which then gives way to an exciting and frenetic theme which races along at a feverish pitch. Finally, at some length, we reach a lyrical and lovely theme which provides some stunning duets between the violin and cello.
Other than the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio and the last two of Rubinstein's piano trios, there is nothing in the Russian romantic literature which can compare to this outstanding work and we warmly recommend it to both professionals and experienced amateurs. We have reprinted Steinberg's edition which subsequently appeared in Volume 28 of the complete edition of Rimsky-Korsakov's collected works, while correcting a few mistakes mistakes.