Trio for Violin, Viola & Piano in e minor, Op.121
Scharwenka's Op.121 Trio for Violin, Viola and Piano is one of only a handful of works for this combination. Happily, it is a superb work meriting the attention of any such ensemble.
Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) was born near Posen, then part of Prussian Poland. He moved to Berlin in 1865 to complete his musical education. A good pianist, he primarily devoted himself to composition and teaching at several of Berlin’s leading conservatories, finally joining the faculty and serving as director of the conservatory founded by his younger brother, Xaver. Otto Klemperer was among his many students. During his lifetime, his orchestral compositions were featured regularly in German concert halls, but the common consensus is that his chamber music was his best work. Besides several instrumental sonatas, he wrote two string quartets, two standard piano trios, a piano quintet and this trio for violin, viola and piano. All of these are late works and written within a few tears of each other. The Op.121 trio appeared in 1915. The idiom is late German Romantic, which by that time was certainly a retrospective style. The appearance of this work in 1915, rather than say in 1890, no doubt played a role in their not receiving the attention they should have for it is a first class piece.
The trio is in three movements. Although the opening movement is marked Andante tranquillo, the music is far from tranquil. There is an sense of restless and yearning which can be heard immediately from the opening bars and then throughout the movement. The middle movement, Un poco lento, is quite short. Somewhat ponderous, it has a Beethovian profunity. One might even consider it a very lengthy introduction to the finale, Allegretto con spirito, which is played attacca. The Allegretto has an exciting drive but still has a forceful heaviness which acts as a restraint until a moto perpetuo section is finally reached.
As already noted, there are very few works, let alone first class works, for this combination and this trio is one of them. It deserves to be heard in concert and to sit on the stands of home music makers as well. Long unavailable, we are pleased to make it available once again.