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Like Glière’s quartet, the trio by Khachaturian is also a student work written while the composer was enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory. It was completed in 1932, the same year as Khachaturian’s well known Toccata for piano, but well in advance of the ballets and concertos that gained him world renown. Nevertheless the work is fully characteristic of its composer’s distinctive, exotic style.
The rhapsodic first movement has gypsy-like, improvisatory qualities. The main melody, given successively to the clarinet, violin, and piano, is offset by highly ornamented passagework and cadenzas. The material is not so much developed as continuously repeated, creating a colorful yet hypnotic atmosphere.
The second movement begins as if a scherzo, with a descending scale motive reminiscent of Glière’s theme and variations, but soon a carefree folk tune enters on the clarinet and the tempo relaxes. The agitato section which follows combines the two ideas, and a presto cadenza leads to a triumphant, ornamented return of the folk melody. The movement concludes, scherzando, as it began.
The finale is a set of variations on yet another folk-inspired tune, with a subsidiary rhythmic figure acting as a foil and gaining in importance as the movement progresses. Both share the spotlight at the climax, after which the music gradually winds down before dissipating into nothingness.
Pianist Erik Entwistle is a Ph.D. Candidate in Musicology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is preparing a dissertation on "Martinu in Paris."