DVORAK: Piano Trio in f; Piano Trio in e, “Dumky” – Trio Wanderer – Harmonia mundi

Splendid renditions of Dvorak’s two late Piano Trios, part of Trio Wanderer’s thirtieth-year offerings. 

DVORAK: Piano Trio in f, Op. 65; Piano Trio in e, Op. 90 “Dumky” – Trio Wanderer  – Harmonia mundi HMM 90228, 65:13 (2/24/17) *****:

Recorded January 2016, this fine CD brings together two of Dvorak’s potent piano trios as performed by the sumptuously elegant Trio Wanderer, now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. More than one commentator has applied the epithet “Brahmsian” to the f minor Trio of 1883, which tends to take its cues from the Brahms Piano Quintet in the same key. The broad opening movement, a powerhouse of musical concision and polyphonic richness, features aggressive ensemble as well individual bravura from all three players, and Raphael Pidoux’s cello sings with especial resonance. Bur no less do the violin parts from Phillips-Varjabedia and the sterling piano playing by Vincent Coq impart a colossal grasp of the music at hand, as intimate as it is dramatic in its dotted rhythms. Dvorak’s capacity to create seamless transitions has already manifested itself in this dark work, akin to elements of the Symphony No. 7. If the urgent stresses and nostalgic moments of conflict betray any precise model, we might consider Dvorak’s admiration of Franz Schubert. In this respect, Dvorak seems to have sublimated of his innately Bohemian sensibilities into a more formal, German tradition.

For his second movement, provides a hybrid intermezzo-scherzo in 2/4, Allegro grazioso – meno mosso, whose c-sharp minor swagger generates a distinct propulsion, especially from Vincent Coq. Much of the sheer bustle of this furiant derives from its lack of repeats. After the heavy cross-rhythms of the outer section, the Trio rather floats in the enharmonic D-flat Major.  Coq’s piano provides a miracle of varying personalities, stomping and martial and soothingly and purring. The chromatic line often reverses the string and keyboard parts, adding a divine color to the kinetic energies of this astounding movement. Piano and cello first introduce the serene, even elegiac, Poco adagio in A-flat Major. Here, the exquisite violin part carries the heart of the sacred song, likely a paean to Dvorak’s mother – and here we recall the Brahms Horn Trio – who had died some six weeks prior to the composing of this trio. Both soaring and radiant, this music finds a perfection of its own from these participants. What endures as Dvorak’s folk wisdom resides in his Allegro con brio finale, once more in the home key of f minor.  A darkly-hued, heavy rondo-sonata in triple time inherited from Haydn, the music communicates a ferocious gypsy or furiant air we might liken to the last movement of the Brahms Op. 25 Piano Quartet. There do appear waltz intimations and three episodes of softer sentiments, but the dominant impetus – once more driven by Coq’s relentless piano – of tragedy persists, though a moment from the lovely Adagio recurs. Dvorak toys with fugato but eschews any academic application of the procedure. The textures built to a definite “symphonic” level of sound, only to relent into salon intimacy.  The inexorable peroration leads to coda in F Major that somehow dispels the long night.

The 1891 Dumky Trio takes its eponym from the ballad-like Slavonic dance, which alternates melancholy and optimistic emotions rather capriciously. Each movement of Dvorak’s six-movement trio presents a dumka, set as contrasting motions of slow and fast, much in the manner of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. Dvorak employed the dance form in his Op. 48 String Sextet and in the second movement of his esteemed Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81. Dvorak’s main pattern emphasizes minor/major alternations until the Andante third movement, a fiery Allegretto that bookcases a slow section inside the outer festivities, which dissolves on a muted chord in A Major. The fourth movement provides a hazy march. For his finale, Dvorak hints at a rondo whose slow introduction does not betray the fireworks that soon ensue. Whatever improvisation a performance of this epic but light work requires, the Trio Wanderer manages to balance a sense of lyric and impetuous spontaneity with a lean tonal precision that rivals what the Beaux Arts Trio did for this great music two generations ago. Vincent Coq’s piano alternates between a fine-honed harmonium and a Slavonic orchestra, and violinist Phillips-Varjabedian instrument often sails in an aether entirely a law unto itself.  The smooth sound effect, courtesy of Engineer Rene Moeller, guarantee the enchantment will endure throughout all one’s auditions of this superb disc!

—Gary Lemco

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