DVORAK: Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 90 “Dumky”; Piano Trio No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 65 – Wu Han, p./ Philip Setzer, v./ David Finckel, cello – ArtistLed 11201-2, 67:48 ****:
The two Dvorak Piano Trios recorded (June 2012) on this fine disc emanate quite contrary impulses in the composer, with the F Minor’s impassioned, turbulent malaise; and the “Dumky’s” essentially nationalistic lyric energies. The Piano Trio in F Minor (1883) bears all the hallmarks of the sturm und drang movement in music, no less informed by the influence of the Brahms chamber music legacy on Dvorak. We might find elements of the Brahms F Minor Piano Quintet haunting the colossal periods of dark anguish in Dvorak’s score; perhaps a more pronounced influence would be the Brahms C Minor Piano Quartet. Dvorak’s sympathy for the music and spirit of his mentor Bedrich Smetana, too, permeates both works: Bohemian impulses crossed with German formal procedures combine in two works of intense emotional range. The three ArtistLed musicians in collaboration – each a member of the Music@Menlo Festival in Palo Alto, CA during various summer months – bring a decided exuberance and electric current to their performance, a realization both taut and scintillating at once. Philip Setzer’s violin carries a particularly lively aura, his tone a streamlined beam of light surrounded by Wu Han’s sparkling keyboard and the sumptuous cello of David Finckel.
The Allegretto grazioso second movement has been likened to a Hussite war chant, a polka with a driven martial air. Only the trio alleviates the aggression, replacing Mars with Eros. The Poco adagio enthralls us with Dvorak’s operatic capacity for vocal melody, as Finckel’s cello initiates what will be a serene duet with Setzer’s violin over a liquid piano. If the solemnly beautiful atmosphere recalls the slow movement from Smetana’s autobiographical E Minor String Quartet, it is likely no accident. For the final movement, a furiant that Dvorak marks Allegro con brio, the ArtistLed ensemble maintains a light but fleet sextet of hands, the music mercurial in its lithe alternations of folk elements. The secondary theme, a wistful waltz, emanates a nostalgic intimacy rife with personal fire. The last pages only intensify the vivid longing and smoldering passions that the musicians have so effectively rendered.
The 1891 Dumky Trio in E minor plays like a suite of connected folk dances, often melancholy, with the capacity to break out into joyful celebration. A decisive clarity of musical line permeates this realization, informed by a canny instinct for Dvorak’s protean rhythmic permutations. Alternately ardent, funereal, elegiac, and ebullient, these character pieces segue into each other with an elastic abandon or singular pensiveness. The splendid colors the three ArtistLed instrumentalists mix testify to the composer’s infinite capacity to dazzle the mind with his kaleidoscopic imagination.
Finckel’s cello in the second dumka emits a singular passion, answered by Han’s studied keyboard. The moody arabesques soon evolve into a spirited folk dance of boundless energy. The most ingenuous of the set, No. 3, plays in the manner of a lullaby, first in muted string tones then in single keyboard notes. The subsequent variations rival Schubert for melodic currency. Finckel again reigns over an ostinato series in piano and violin for the next (fourth) movement, whose martial air has a wonderful carillon interruption, quite magical in texture. The fifth movement sparkles and sways at once, leading to the Lento maestoso that closes the work, wherein Han, Setzer, and Finckel capture elegantly that contrary sensibility in Dvorak, a mix of extroversion and sad intimacy, all retold as if in a fable.