Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940) wrote these piano trios aged barely twenty years. Born at Eton College where his father taught Classics, Tovey surprisingly did not attend school, his piano teacher, Miss Sophie Weisse, having persuaded his father, by then Rector of Worplesdon, Surrey, to have him educated at home. Miss Weisse took care of the musical education and young Donald was taught other subjects by various tutors in the area. His first taste of social education came when he went up to Balliol College, Oxford on a scholarship for promising musicians; he graduated in “Greats” his tutors compromising by awarding him a third-class degree, the historians believing he deserved a fourth, the philosophers a first.
While Tovey became well-known as a pianist and composer, and made a couple of recordings for the National Gramophone Society in 1928, he is better known for his writings on music and his editions of piano works, perhaps most notably the Associated Board’s of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues published in 1924 and in print ever since. Toccata Classics has embarked on a series of recordings of Tovey’s music, this being the third release, the other two including the Cello Concerto (1932-3) and the Symphony (1913), and this gives an opportunity to experience the music of a figure who was so important a part of music in Britain in first half of the twentieth-century.
These early chamber works, issued as Volume One of Tovey’s chamber music, are remarkably mature and exquisitely written, though dependent on Brahms’s influence to a greater or lesser degree. Lyrical and romantic, passionate and rhapsodic, they repay repeated listening. The Opus One Piano Trio was submitted with other works for consideration for the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1895 soon after Tovey had arrived in Oxford, and though he was not awarded the scholarship, the work was performed in June with Tovey at the piano. It’s a substantial work lasting nearly forty minutes; the first movement opens Maestoso, and sets the scene with all the confidence of youth. The second movement is a minuet and trio, the former light, the latter darker in colour. The third movement ‘Rhapsodia’ serves as the scherzo, and the Allegro ma non troppo finale is in binary form, a skipping Brahmsian theme for the first subject returning later very passionately.
The C minor Trio was also written in 1895 (the dates for both works are incorrect on the insert), though originally set for piano, clarinet and horn; this version appeared in 1912 when Schott published both this and the original. This is another substantial piece, lasting nearly half-an-hour. The first movement is in sonata form and the mood is set with the description of ‘Style tragique’ as applied by Schott on publication. A moving Largo serves as the second movement and the last is a meaty Allegro non tanto again with stormy passion.
These two accomplished works are performed superbly by the London Piano Trio and were recorded in the fine acoustics of Potton Hall. There is an excellent booklet note by Peter R. Shore, who produced the project, which are accompanied by Tovey’s own analysis of these works. This issue is highly recommended and augurs well for further releases in this series, which I look forward to hearing with eager anticipation.