NAPRAVNIK: Chamber Music = Piano Trio in g minor, Op. 24; Piano Pieces, Op. 84: Melancolie, No. 3 (arr. Spyros Trio and Myroslav Krill); Piano Trio in d minor, 62 – Spyros Piano Trio – MDG multichannel SACD 903 1996-6, 69:32 (3/31/17) [Distr. by eOne] ****:
Noted more for his conducting legacy, composer Eduard Napravnik’s piano trios deserve wider acclaim.
Eduard Napravnik (1839-1916) maintains a solid reputation in both his native Czechoslovakia and his adopted country Russia, especially for his extensive work, 1869-1879 with the Maryinsky Theatre, where, serving as principal conductor, he led 4000 operatic performances, among them 500 of Glinka’s A Life for the Czar. Napravnik’s affection for and loyalty to the music of other composers eventually encroached on his own creativity, and he stopped writing his own music – some 200 published works – after 1906. The quality of his orchestra-building became no less spectacular, and both Felix Mottl and Gustav Mahler praised Maryinsky chorus and orchestra for their thorough preparation for performances led by these guests, each of whom compared the ensembles favorably to the Vienna Philharmonic.
The Spyros Piano Trio – Bartek Niziol, violin; Denis Severin, cello; and Tatiana Korsunskaya, piano – present the complete piano trios by Napravnik (rec. 5-7 August 2016). The g minor Piano Trio (1876) testifies to a master of instrumentation and balance, opening with an impulsive, aggressive theme for a broad first movement, Allegro con fuoco, in fast tempo. The tripartite rhythm of the passionate theme and its light counter-subject more than once suggest the Glinka influence. The piano has an improvisational, virtuosic element that becomes an ostinato in the development. Staccato elements contrast with legato, sighing figures. In later pages, the trio has the playful, gypsy sound of a Bohemian ensemble, the sensibility not so far from Smetana. A relatively gentle Allegretto grazioso, quasi Andantino follows, lyrical in the cello and piano, a kind of Slavonic dance featuring two motifs. Napravnik then engages the two ideas in double counterpoint without the music’s becoming bogged down in academics. The sonority assumes a “symphonic” character despite the etched and staid nature of the basic rhythmic pulse.
The Scherzo: Presto is set in E-flat Major, a hustling affair in multiple rhythms and swift articulation in the keyboard. The impish good humor of the movement has something of Schumann about it and the Viennese cabaret. Napravnik designates his last movement Alla Russe: Vivace, a stomping dance that vacillates between major and minor while indulging in what Mahler would call “progressive modulation.” The moods keep switching from martially dance-like to plaintive (dolente) musings that descend into an affecting c minor and make their circuitous way to a sunny G Major. From a muted sonority, the themes rise in dynamic power to restate the swirling main tune, which sounds like a Tchaikovsky trepak or mazurka. The violin and cello engage in quick imitation whle the piano builds up a grand pedal point so the plaintive theme may resound in our hearts. The dance once more preponderates, and the dolente moment tries to prevail, only to succumb to a wild rush of stomping energy.
The Melancholie (Adagio) in g minor exists in several versions, the first for string orchestra then arranged for solo piano (1886). The music serves as a berceuse or meditative entr’acte if ever one were required. Somber in mood and marked by irregular phrase lengths, the piece has a distinct melodic charm, much like the Faure Pavane or Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile. Napravnik dedicated the work to Sergey Taneyev, Tchaikovky’s disciple.
The d minor Piano Trio (1897) exploits Napravnik’s natural melodic gift in motifs based on parallel octaves in the strings and pungent chords in the piano. The cello line has splendid fervor, picked by the violin, each marked Espressivo. The piano projects heroic block chords and upward runs, staccato. The music seems to break off for a new motif, darkly melodic, that no less asks heavy, punctuated chords from the piano, in concertante style. The typical Napravnik signature contrasts a surface jollity with a profound, somber lyricism. Listen closely to the last page to hear a distinct, drooping glissando in the cello. The coda hammers at us with a resolute sense of fate. The Scherzo: Vivace in F Major has a tripartite structure, much indebted to Dvorak. Sailing breezily along, the music suddenly – by way of the plaintive cello and then the violin – assumes a tragic cast in b-flat minor not far from a Chopin funeral march.
After the da capo return of light spirits for the second movement, Napravnik overtly invites the tragic muse into his Elegie in g minor. Marked Molto moderato, the music evolves as a dirge in archaic modal harmonies. The writing has much of the expressiveness we find in the violin-violoncello duets in Tchaikovsky’s ballets. The stunning sonic image, courtesy of Recording Supervisor Holger Schlegel, contributes to the plangent and dramatic power of this undeservingly neglected music. The Finale: Allegro con fuoco starts off with virile, frenzied energy. Once more, the lyrical impulse asserts itself over and above a percussive piano, and soon the three instruments harmonize a sweet love song, espressivo, even Rachmaninov or Dvorak could envy. The driving motor impulse picks up, the strings in imitation and antiphon, and the wildness pounces once more. Napravnik cannot indulge in hearty abandon without returning to his innate, melancholy ardor; and so, even in the midst of life, we are in… love?