Johann Peter Pixis (1788-1874) is sadly neglected nowadays; with the recent exception of Stephen Hough and Howard Shelley, few musicians have paid any attention to him although in his day he was greatly respected, particularly so in Paris where the Mannheim-born composer resided from 1825 to 1845. His style of composition indicates that his birth-date lay between those of Beethoven and Schubert but some of his fiery fast-moving piano sequences suggest Mendelssohn.
All seven of Pixis’s Piano Trios were composed during his sojourn in Paris and the two examples presented here (respectively from 1825 and 1828) are highly original. The repeat of the four-minute exposition is made in the extensive first movement of the E-flat Trio, although the Probst edition does not mark it but the contours of the movement justify the performers’ decision. There is Beethoven-like power here with the piano taking a melodic lead but all credit to the recording engineer David Hinitt for ensuring the strings are boldly audible. The brief Andante con moto is elegant, its cheerfulness surrounding a central section of momentary drama. The score shows the movement ending with a dramatic Adagio culminating in a brilliant piano cadenza but this section is really an introduction to the Finale and it is therefore placed at the start of track three. The main body of the Finale is highly exuberant until a minute's thoughtfulness is succeeded by a brilliant coda. The members of the Leonore Piano Trio rightly concentrate on the inherent optimism for the quieter melodies are too innocent to be sentimentalised and the straightforwardness of the reading makes for an ideal approach.
The four-movement B-minor Piano Trio (catalogued by one German publisher as having double bass instead of cello) is also cheerful by nature, despite being in a minor key. Although the piece commences forcefully, the alternative melodies have a comforting feel. Again the main strength lies in the sonata-form opening movement; the following Andante is a quiet but strongly rhythmic march – I like the way in which shadows of contemporary composers pass by without the music being derivative; Schubert and Hummel are momentarily recalled. The Scherzo has an unusual design, the Trio arriving sooner than expected and a sizeable coda rounds off the movement by extending the initial melodies. The Finale alla Mauresque is very animated: I don’t know if the Moors danced like this but the music’s main attribute is its exuberance.
The entertaining Trio Concertant No.1 has a complicated provenance. The themes come from the opera Le Colporteur ou l’Enfant du bücheron by George Onslow (1784-1853). By the way, the Colporteur is a peddler and has nothing to do with the composer of ‘Begin the Beguine’. Not all of the music is by Pixis; it was composed in collaboration with violinist Anton Bohrer and his cello-playing brother Max. There are three movements, played without a break. The brief ‘Introduzione’ has a grand opening leading to a simple tune and the central set of variations is based on a theme where Onslow anticipates Arthur Sullivan in a jolly mood. On arriving at the third variant there is a passage – known to have been contributed by Pixis – in which the piano takes off spectacularly in a manner worthy of Liszt at his wildest; this may not be the most important work of the three here recorded but Tim Horton’s considerable skill certainly enhances its value. The Finale is based on a tune which would sit comfortably in a Victorian salon but the players are given virtuosic things to do and there is a daring piano-led acceleration towards the final chords.