“In a New Light” – Trio Voce = ZEMLINSKY: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 3; SUK: Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 2; ARENSKY: Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 32 – Trio Voce – Con Brio CBR21344, 78:26 [www.conbriorecordings.com] ****:
Only pleasant surprises lie in wait for auditors of this collection of late-Romantic trios, recorded 10-12 December 2012 at WFMT Studios in Chicago. Each of these musical works proves immediately engaging and melodically inventive, beginning with the 1896 Trio in D Minor by Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942), recalled in history for his having served as the only formal composition teacher of the young Arnold Schoenberg. Zemlinsky originally conceived his trio as a clarinet trio after the spirit of the Brahms Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, now having been adapted to the suave colors of the cello (Marina Hoover). The considerable piano part never fails to challenge and reward the player (Patrica Tao) or the listener, while several passing riffs invoke memories of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio No. 1 in the same key. What the Trio most clearly conveys remains its structural and textural confidence, the harmonic colors’ taking advantage of the rising or falling fourth that contemporaries Bruckner and Mahler find equally effective. After a disarmingly rich Andante, an improvisatory passage leads to the gypsy Allegro with which Zemlinsky concludes , the finale’s borrowing the minor scale of the opening Allegro non troppo. Jasmine Lin’s violin weaves some fine and edgy tunes with the keyboard, eventually moving to a cyclic sense of closure and resonant coda.
Josef Suk (1874-1935) learned his musical craft as a violinist, eventually coming under the tutelage of Antonin Dvorak, whose daughter Otilie he married. The early death of his wife and the death of Dvorak himself devastated Suk, who spent much of his remaining years performing with his string quartet and teaching. The Trio in C Minor (1889; rev. 1891) enjoys a charming national cast in Bohemian tunes and rhythm. A huge declamation opens the Allegro, which soon bursts into fierce song, especially in the cello. The sweeping melody contrasts with the dotted figures, the music’s proceeding to various periods in the manner of symphonic music. We feel the charming first movement ends too soon. A suave Bohemian tango-like duet in the strings begins the Andante, a dotted melody over light touches from the keyboard. In this movement Jasmine Lin’s violin will supersede the cello’s power to invoke tender plaints, leading to a passionate version of the music. The music closes dolce in the strings. A nervously dotted motif opens the syncopated Vivace finale. The infectious spontaneity engages us much as it must have captured the fancy of Dvorak. Again, Ms. Lin’s exalted violin spins wonderful webs around her companions’ artful support. By the conclusion, we are convinced that Suk has established his own voice in music, and in no way an ‘artful imitator’ of the idol Dvorak.
Anton Arensky (1861-1906) continues to live in Tchaikovsky’s shadow, but Arensky’s Trio No. 1 in D Minor (1894) has retained its own reputation as a strong and expansive example of his gifts in the chamber music medium. Arensky dedicated the work to Karl Davidov (1838-1889), the prominent cellist and director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. If a spirit of Mendelssohn pervades the work, the first movement Allegro moderato soon transcends that playfully witty epithet to achieve some truly passionate moments. The balanced, economical writing for all three instruments becomes quite virtuosic, though the cello typically leads the voices while the keyboard engages in ardent triplets. When the piano indulges in epic chords, the effect echoes aspects of Tchaikovsky’s own Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50. The Scherzo movement reigns as the most bravura of the four: the violin engages in pizzicato, spiccati, and harmonics over the brilliant cascades of the piano. The ternary form of the good-natured movement finds a reflective, salon-scale waltz at its center.
Another ternary form, the Elegie: Adagio presents a requiem for Davidov, and Hoover’s muted cello introduces the lamentation. As in Tchaikovsky’s Trio, a strong sense of personal nostalgia infiltrates the writing, a personal portrait of Davidov’s generous character implied. The piano has entered in a dotted motif and sincere melody. The Finale takes its cues from both Beethoven and Berlioz, revisiting earlier movements’ melodies. Hoover and Lin engage in some tender lines while a potent Tao executes her piano part. Like the last movement of the Beethoven Ninth, the opening proves momentous, with the piano’s uttering massive dotted chords and the strings in tremolos and octaves. Even the coda takes its material from the Finale’s opening motif. The same artful finesse that marked the Suk and Zemlinsky trios has bestowed an equally grand impression on the Arensky to motivate our desire to hear more of the Trio Voce.