Piano Trio in A Major, Op.69
Sigismund Thalberg (1812-1871) was born in Pâquis near Geneva, Switzerland. Born out of wedlock, his father was a prince, his mother a baroness who was a brilliant amateur pianist and it generally thought that she became his primary teacher. By the time he finally took some lessons from the famous virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles at the age of 14, Moscheles was of the opinion that Thalberg needed no further lessons to become a great artist. He subsequently became one of Europe’s leading piano virtuosi, generally considered the equal of Liszt, though some such as Mendelssohn and Onslow thought him better. One of the main differences between Thalberg and Liszt was that Thalberg did not engage in overweening showmanship. His repertoire remained rooted in the classics and he often performed in chamber music ensembles.
The bulk of his compositions were for the piano, however, he did write a few works for violin and piano as well as this piano trio. As a frequent performer of chamber music, Thalberg realized that excessive virtuosic displays were out of place in chamber music and saved those for his piano works. Instead, one finds in his trio that all three instruments are treated in true chamber music style. Composed in 1853, the work is in three movements and begins with a richly scored Allegretto molto moderato. The gorgeous but leisurely themes take their time to reach a dramatic climax. In the second movement, Andante cantabile, the piano is held entirely in the background—extraordinary for a composer who was a piano virtuoso. All of the action is in the string parts. The writing is redolent of Schubert and Schumann, but it even out does them in the way the piano in is held check. Certainly, this is one of the most beautiful movements in the romantic era literature. The finale, Allegretto ma non troppo, begins as a scherzo but slowly morphs into a true allegretto only to periodically return to the style of a scherzo. Again, the fine writing for all three instruments is on display.
This is a first rate piano trio from the mid romantic era which is deserving of concert performance. It is no way beyond amateurs who are also encouraged to make its acquaintance.