Beaux Arts Trio: Schwetzinger 1960 = BRAHMS: Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8; RAVEL: in A Minor – Beaux Arts Trio – Hanssler Classic 93.715, 53:26 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The Beaux Arts Trio (estab. 1955) which made its appearance at the Schwetzinger Festival 28 May 1960 included Daniel Guilet, violin; Bernard Greenhouse, cello; and Menahem Pressler, piano. The Beethoven Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1 that appeared on the program has not survived in its recorded form. The 1854 Brahms B Major Trio receives a fiery reading, indeed, with all three participants in particularly febrile temper, driving the opening pages, set as a cello sonata for some twenty-three measures before the violin enters the texture. Curiously, Brahms inverts the typical “heroic” procedure of the music by moving from the major mode to the minor. And despite the sweeping gestures accorded the instrumentalists, the Beaux Arts adapt a literalist, anti-sentimental stance throughout the reading, preferring the jarring incisive Brahms to the nostalgically romantic stereotype. Only at the secondary subject of the portentous B Minor Scherzo does the Beaux Arts first permit a melancholy rapture to invade its otherwise defensive posture. Here, Greenhouse can exult, and Guilet exerts an absolutely magma heat on the tremolos. The silken keyboard filigree produced by Pressler in the late pages of the Scherzo convince us he had magic on his side.
Even the ostensible chorale-motifs of the third movement Adagio, however anguished, remain detached and objectified. Greenhouse’s ardent cello line, over a cantering keyboard accompaniment, assumes a grander course, declamatory and cantabile. The two strings evolve some independent thoughts while the piano offers a misty series of chromatic chords that eventually invoke the movement’s opening. That the music may respond to the tragedy having been played out in Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt in Dusseldorf at that time may well hue these gloomy pages. Ambiguity marks the last movement, Finale: Allegro, in which a dire waltz gains momentum and fierce acceleration through syncopation and excursions into troubled major modalities. Guilet’s scales send genuine chills as the cello and piano try to sustain the Viennese mask of civilization. Grim mortality and plaintive anxiety prove too much for the consolatory sentiments, and the music ends with a crashing and turbulent statement of B Minor.
It was with the 1914 Ravel Trio that the Beaux Arts Trio opened their recital, and its askew orientalism captures our fancy from the first, Cambodia and Ulan Bator by way of Pierre Louys and Arthur Rimbaud. The fine lines emanated by the ensemble hold in strict tension, a fabric of wondrous, silken pagodas and diaphanous minarets. Curiously, the evolution of the first movement remains classically conservative, and the modalities derive their influence from Basque melodic tissue. The Pantoum indication of the second movement wants to imitate a Malayan verse form, but what makes this movement jump are its biting staccati and glittery waltz figures that borrow from jazz procedures. Pressler urges his string complement ever forward, and they dazzle in their ostinati and pizzicati over the piano’s liquid or broken chord filigree. Ravel deliberately courts an archaic mode in his Passacaglia, moving up a pitch and increasing the sonority through ten variants. The seductive tone of Guilet makes a case for his playing more violin sonatas with Pressler. Indeed, for such a severe Baroque form, the intimacy of the music as realized by the Beaux Arts quite belies its aloofness as architecture. An illumined whirring of parts opens the Finale: Anime, with tremolos and crystalline runs competing for dominance in splendid collision and mixture. Pressler provides a bass theme that generates various orchestral reactions from the two strings, the colors in dervish panoply and manic layers that spin a rarified veil of illusion, convincing us of every exotic truth.
In Memoriam… a fine tribute to Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire