- Trio for piano & strings in E major
- Cuatro piezas españolas (Four Spanish Pieces), for piano trio
There are two sides to Tomás Bretón's compositions, evidenced by the two pieces on this disc from Naxos' Spanish Classics series. The scant biographical information that is readily found in basic music reference works tells that Bretón was an important composer in his day, slightly older than Albéniz and Granados, but not much of his music endured after his death in 1923. His best-known composition is the zarzuela "La Verbena de la Paloma," one of a number of stage works on which his reputation largely rests. He had studied music since he was a child, but it wasn't until he was 30 years old that he was able to travel outside of Spain to learn what he could in the great musical centers of Europe: Rome, Vienna, and Paris. What he learned inspired him in the two paths that his music follows: the need to elevate the reputation of Spanish music to a more sophisticated level among the rest of Western culture and the need for nationalistic, Spanish music based on native tunes, rhythms, and harmonies. His "Piano Trio" is an example of his desire to write in a more traditional European chamber music form. It dates from 1887, but it frequently sounds as if it were from decades earlier. There are passages that bring to mind Mozart's piano quartets, but more frequently it seems to follow the Schumann-Brahms vein of Romanticism, especially given the lyric lines of melody. However, in terms of technical challenge and depth of character, it falls shy of the high standards of those two men. It's meant to be a "serious" work, as opposed to his stage work, and a casual listener can see how Bretón's critics might feel that his chamber music does not reflect Spain enough. Yet there are Spanish rhythms in it, cleverly disguised in accompanimental lines. The scherzo (third movement) has the most blatant Spanish references, and the most complex interweaving of thematic ideas, and like the rest of the composition, despite its "serious" intent, one can't help but feel cheered by the music overall. The violin and cello tend to work as one instrument or texture contrasted against the piano in both the "Trio" and the "Cuatro Piezas Españolas," which are a much later composition (1911). These are much more what would be expected of nationalistic music and music of that period. The Spanish dance rhythms are not disguised at all in these, and the melodies and harmonies have that evocative flavor that seems so exotic compared to other European music. Again, these do not sound overly demanding or complex, but their character and the Spanish essence make them entirely appealing and explains why they were popular when they first appeared, but doesn't explain why they have been ignored since Bretón's passing. The LOM Piano Trio gives both compositions a good showing. The sound does cry out for a richer tone once and a while, especially in the slower, more lyrical passages, where the vibrato of the strings could stand to be heard more deeply, and there isn't always a sense of a cohesive ensemble in the sound. However, the LOM's reading of the "Trio," as is the music's nature, is energetic, a little more restrained in than the "Cuatro Piezas," which it gives more panache, but still its enthusiasm for both of Bretón's works clearly comes across.