Myra Hess: The Pre-War Trio Recordings = SCHUBERT: Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major, D. 898; BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 – Myra Hess, piano/ Jelly d’Aranyi, violin/ Felix Salmond, cello (Schubert)/ Gaspar Cassado, cello (Brahms) – Pristine Audio PACM 083, 61:26 [various formats avail. from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The art of Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) has moments of resurgence, especially as Opus Kura (OPK 2098) and Pristine Audio have revitalized her 28-30 September 1927 Schubert Trio No. 1 with Jelly d’Aranyi (1893-1966) and Felix Salmond (1888-1952). Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi inspired composers Bartok, Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Ravel to compose for and work with her, although her tone projects that same thin wiry quality we know from Joseph Szigeti. Despite the excellently quiet restorations by Mark Obert-Thorn, we feel that the microphone placement, favoring d’Aranyi, often subdues the keyboard’s contribution, which proves considerable. The Schubert opening Allegro moderato, however, enjoys a decided propulsion, its motto rhythm (almost a Beethoven impulse) underlying much of the development.
The Andante un poco mosso occupies pride of place in this work, incorporating duets alternately for violin and piano and violin and cello. The elegant lyricism of the playing invokes Stravinsky’s famous quip that were he to fall asleep through the music of Schubert, heaven would be immanent in any case. Violinist d’Aranyi occasionally indulges in a slide or portamento strictly old-school, but the lofty flow of ideas proceeds naturally. The third movement Allegro and Trio combines laendler and waltz energies, respectively, lightly and dexterously realized by the principals. In the manner of Haydn, Schubert for his final Allegro vivace fuses a rondo to a loose theme-and-variations format, a mixture of canny musicianship and rather rustic humor in a piece conceived (1828) in the year of the composer’s death. Cellist Salmond makes his firm presence known while Hess and a swirling d’Aranyi cavort in the higher reaches of the atmosphere. The last pages, fleet and secure, emanate pure joy in stylistic security.
The recording of the Brahms 1882 Piano Trio No. 2 in C from 25 October 1935 I owned personally in its 78 rpm incarnation, courtesy of my college instructor in chamber music, Patricia Isham. Cellist Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966) joins Hess and d’Aranyi, his thick tone not always to advantage. Nevertheless, the piece possesses a grudging beauty in Hungarian hues, and Cassado’s cello injects girth where I find d’Aranyi’s violin sharply wiry. I do like the tension the trio of players generates in the course of the first movement Allegro’s development section from what we had thought was to be a repeat of the exposition. I find Hess relegated to the background in the Andante con moto, a rather forlorn theme with five variations. In dark colors, the variations convey wistful mystery and resignation until the next-to-last, which opens up into A Major. A lovely duet in Variation 2, with d’Aranyi and Hess that evolves to Cassado and Hess, and all three in concerted sequences.
In the C Minor Presto third movement, each of the principals exerts every effort to conform to the Brahms designation, via Mendelssohn, of sempre leggiero, to maintain an air of impish phantasm. The trio abounds with melodic richness; and here, the string players really make it happen. Here, the breezy and mellifluous changes of register benefit from Cassado’s tone, and he makes us wish Emanuel Feuermann had committed this opus to recorded posterity. The finale: Allegro giocoso plays with leaping intervals of a fourth and sixth before deciding on the fifth to work its magic. Hess has some brilliant filigree, but the microphones smother some of her bass patterns. The momentum picks up and the atmosphere brightens as the musicians proceed through this jaunty movement, somewhat episodically constructed, but true to the late Brahms spirit of valedictory reflection and virile energy.
“Perhaps the most fluently consummate performer on the keyboard of all time…”