BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1; SMETANA: Piano Trio in G – Yael Weiss, p./ Mark Kaplan, violin/ Clancy Newman, cello – Bridge

by | Dec 9, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8; SMETANA: Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15 – Yael Weiss, piano/ Mark Kaplan, violin/ Clancy Newman, cello – Bridge 9362, 65:45 [Distr. By Albany] ****:
Recorded 13-15 January 2010 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, these two works each came to be in relation to a tragic circumstance: the Brahms 1854 Trio evolved pursuant to Robert Schumann’s first suicide attempt; the Smetana Trio of 1855 serves in memoriam for the composer’s first child Bedriska, who died at the untimely age of four.
The Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio approaches the Brahms with expansive intimacy, performing the revised version of the Trio Brahms completed in 1889. For those of us raised on the Rubinstein-Heifetz-Feuermann version, this performance will appear a sweet rival, especially given the lush tone each of the participants brings to this romantic score. The performers themselves admit to adapting a rather free sense of rubato throughout, adding a sense of emotional poignancy to selected passages. The secondary theme of the waspish Scherzo indulges in swooning reverie of the Old World sensibility. The relatively new sound of Mr. Newman’s expressive cello playing proves a decided plus. The glittering keyboard runs at movement’s end enjoy a liquid deftness rich in flavor. The Adagio, however, conveys a sense of requiem, a presage of Schumann’s eventual passing, and what that loss meant to an entire age. The similarity of the opening chordal structure to the Adagio of the D Minor Concerto becomes quite striking.  The separation of registers near the finale, high and low, anticipates developments in late Brahms, Liszt, and Schoenberg. The dotted rhythm of the Allegro’s waltz-like melody evolves both in melancholy and in fierce passion, the instruments having gained sweep and momentum, instigated by the brilliant articulations from pianist Weiss. The sturdy coda in B Minor proves muscular and emotionally unnerving.
Smetana’s Trio was composed in two months, much in the throes of passionate despair. The initial Moderato assai keyboard part demonstrates the composer’s considerable prowess, which he used to perform music by Henselt and Liszt. No less moving is Newman’s cello part, placed in dialogue against Kaplan’s folksy violin, with galloping figures from the piano. The vibrant intensity of the music finds bravura expression from this ensemble, ranging from high exuberance to a chromatic figure in descent from D to G that indicates mourning. The intermittent stops and starts register the staggered sensibility of the composer, often dizzied by the anguish he expresses. A kind of Chopin militancy arises near the finale, perhaps the spirit of a daughter and a nation that cannot be stifled by mortality.
The Allegro, ma non agitato that comprises the second movement replaces the traditional slow movement, though its two sub-sections are marked Alternativo I and Alternativo II. Introspective, the two interludes depart from the polka figures that frame them. If one detects a touch of Schumann in the plastic figures, the effect occurs intentionally. The third movement has as its basis a Revolutionary song of the 1840s, here converted into a jittery Presto of feverish manic power. Newman introduces the melancholy beautiful second theme, taken up Kaplan over light chords from Weiss. The tune might be a lullaby of farewell to the composer’s adored Fritzi, his departed daughter. The mad swirl resumes, now in pizzicati, the keyboard and violin figures quite breathless. A Grave section ensues, quasi-Marcia, lyrical and poignant, rife with mortal resignation, touched perhaps by the same affect in Schumann’s Piano Quintet. The grand passion erupts once more to conclude, “a love that was more than a love,” here enshrined in glowing G Major.
—Gary Lemco