RAVEL: Trio in A Minor for Violin, Cello, and Piano; Sonata for Violin and Cello – Jamie Laredo, violin/Jeffrey Solow, cello/ Ruth Laredo, piano/ Leslie Parnas, cello (Sonata) – Sony Classical 88697 92169 2, 45:12 [Distr. By ArkivMusic.com] ****:
These 1973-1974 performances purport to be “Music from Marlboro,” but the Ravel works had their inscription at the Columbia Records 30th Street Studio in New York City. The Marlboro connection relates to the common musical bond each of the featured performers maintained to Rudolf Serkin and his musical vision in the Green Mountains of Vermont. So we might consider the appearance of Jaime and Ruth Laredo and Jeffrey Solow and Leslie Parnas as part of the touring ensembles who represented the joyous spirit of chamber music playing that permeated the Marlboro ethos of the period.
Ravel’s Trio in A Minor (1914), conceived on the eve of and during the early outbreak of WW I, obsessed the composer, who worked feverishly to complete the score before his enlisting for the 13th Artillery Regiment of the French army. Rife with Basque, Moorish, and “Malay” harmonies, the work exudes an exotic languor and hazy eroticism quite detached from the political strife of the times. Relatively new to the piano trio medium, Ravel found himself concerned with the sonorities of the group as problematic for the cello writing, which exploits the instrument’s broad range, especially in the higher registers.
The opening Modere, performed with a casual, breezy abandon by the Laredo-Solow Trio, passes through a number of variants of its 8/8 meter in a gypsy style of the zortziko of Spain but fastened to Classical sonata-form. The Pantuom in ¾ with a trio in 4/2 takes its inspiration from a Malayan verse form, dancing in vivid colors via pizzicato and staccato notes that jab and scratch like Stravinsky riffs, somewhat jazzy and anticipatory in the keyboard part of the G Major Concerto. Ravel maintains the two rhythms at moments to thicken an already sultry texture with added heat. Ruth Laredo (1937-2005) opens the stately Passacaille, which we recall is a Spanish form based on an ostinato pattern established as a ground bass. Each of the three instruments has its moment of divine statement of the noble line. Solow’s deep cello sonority bestows a melancholy beauty on the proceedings, along with any number of ravishing chords from Laredo’s keyboard. The lovely dialogue near the end between Jaime Laredo and Solow anticipates the rich tapestry of the 1922 Sonata also featured on this disc. The exuberant Anime provides a natural, ‘oriental’ showpiece for the ensemble, especially when they sail into F-sharp Major in thick piano chords and sustained string trills in the manner of the Saint-Saens Egyptian Concerto. The dexterity of the orchestral effects quite assail the ear and intoxicate the senses, as though a sensuous Gauguin painting were undulating viscerally before our eyes.
Ravel in 1928 spoke of his 1920 Sonata for Violin and Cello as a “turning point” in his career, “[since] a purging process is in it — a departure from the appeal of harmony, the increasing tendency to return to melody.” Conceived as a memorial for the late Claude Debussy, the piece conveys a spare, cool, demeanor that eschews melancholy or mournful valediction. It seems to skitter through traditional harmony in favor of more audacious periods, and it may well exist as a reaction to a performance of Kodaly’s own duo for the same instrumental combination. One contemporary commentator noted that the cello is to sound like a flute, and the violin to sound like a drum!
The dry direct sonority of Laredo’s violin weaves in and out of Parnas’ rich cello line for the opening Allegro, the economical, linear progression balanced precariously in sevenths that occasionally explode in a semblance of ethnic dance or “Eastern” doxology. Something of the plucked and strummed effects in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat influence the percussive and slashing sensibility of the Tres Vif second movement. A buzzed, haunting ostinato infiltrates the movement, which thuds and plods in busy figures in harmonics or wicked trills. An agonized sort of melody emerges, but not for long. The cello introduces and eight-bar melody of somber musing before the violin enters for the slow movement in song form. If the outer sections remain serene, the middle section exhibits high tension, harmonics and leaping figures predominant. The virtuosic last movement, a spirited if impish rondo, moves with sizzling staccato figures and resonant pizzicato chords. Laredo and Parnas seem to spit-fire the effects one after another, often in close imitation. Parnas uses the tip of the bow to introduce a martial tune whose tessitura likes to dip down then swoop upward. Just how close the harmonic movement lies to Schoenberg’s twelve-tone row must have amused Ravel’s sense of irony. An aural feast of its kind, the music, masterfully engineered here by John Friedenburg, stings the ear in a rich broth of pleasure and pain.
A gloriously vivid sonic document!