SCHUMANN: Complete Piano Trios – Horszowski Trio – Avie 

by | May 6, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Complete Piano Trios = Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63; Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80; Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110; Phantasiestuecke, Op. 88 – Horszowski Trio – Avie AV 2405 (2 CDS), 57:30; 45:33 (4/5/19) [Distr. by Naxos] ****

The relatively new chamber ensemble, Hoszowski Trio – Jesse Mills, violin; Raman Ramakrishnan, cello; Ricko Aizawa, piano – takes its name from the great Polish virtuoso Mieczyslaw Horszowki (1892-1993), whose last pupil Ms. Aizawa proved to be.  The group entirely embraces Horszowski’s “musicianship, integrity, and humanity.” The Schumann recording derives from sessions at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 6-9 December 2017.

Schumann’s D minor Piano Trio of 1847 came about from the composer’s admiration for the 1839 D minor Piano Trio of Felix Mendelssohn, which Schumann called “the most masterly trio of the present era.”  Schumann’s opening movement Mit Energie und Leidenschaft combines emotional agitation and the ‘learned’ style of contrapuntal intricacy. The passion of the moment takes its flight in a seven-bar theme from the violin’s low register and swirling figures in the keyboard. The secondary melody appears at first in canon, a procedure Schumann exploits in this opus. The strings play on the bridge of the instrument, creating a precious, “glassy” sound augmented by the melody’s falling fifth. Aizawa plays with the soft pedal, urging intimacy in the bustle of chromatic tension. The martial element assumes that fairy-tale maerchen character, the melos poignant with the ‘nostalgia for the dream’ that virtually dictates the Schumann sensibility.

The second movement, a scherzo, presents us a galloping, driving, dotted rhythm which spins out its contrasting middle section material out of the same cloth, with a trio section that basks in canonic writing. The slow movement permits the Horszowski Trio a tragic utterance, the piano in low register suspensions. Jesse Mills intones rhapsodic, drooping phrases in triplets. The E of the violin line passes over to the cello to become the opening note of poignant melody. The ultimate transition occurs in the finale, moving to a bright tonic major, played Mit Feuer, the fire of a passion that burns in harmonic luxury.

The 1847 F Major Trio benefits from Schumann’s fascination with J.S. Bach by way of Felix Mendelssohn’s efforts in musical revival.  In the first movement, Sehr lebhaft, pianist Aizawa dominates the idiom, while the strings play for the most part in parallel motion. The violin introduces the secondary tune which soon reveals itself the template for the other movements. Besides Bach, we hear the canonic influences of Schubert and Beethoven as driving and linking forces in the Trio’s progress, marked by the deliberate avoidance of a resolved cadence. The slow movement combines intimacy and counterpoint, a fantasy evolving via a series of variations in contrapuntal or sequential permutation. The moving line in the cello proves no less compelling than the dialogue between violin and piano. Schumann utilizes his “Clara” theme from Carnaval to engage in more canonic procedures. The third movement presents us another canon, here serving as an extended, nervously tender intermezzo. The last movement, Nicht zu rasch, proffers two themes for the well-tested canonic devices. Schumann will indulge in a more overt fugato or two, but the academic impulse does not thwart the sense of spontaneous, Romantic invention.

Portrait Horszowski Trio

Horszowski Trio

The G minor Trio dates from 1851, from Schumann’s last Dusseldorf period, where his association with cellist Christian Reimers proved fruitful.  Clara Schumann found the new trio “original and passionate, especially the scherzo, which carries one along with it into the wildest depths.”  The opening Bewegt, doch nicht zu rasch, set in a driven 6/8, relishes the use of counterpoint in the two strings. The piano’s low register sounds against a pizzicato passage in the cello that proves dramatic and compelling.  The warm slow movement, Ziemlich langsam, proceeds as a songful duet m havming been expressed, the music relents so that the piano might join the melody line in peace. The Rasch third movement exploits folk rhythm and Schumann’s patented liking for two trio sections, the first in major and the second in the form of a march, in which triplets will relieve the dotted rhythm. The rusticity of motion easily suggests Schubert before and Brahms ahead. Schumann’s penchant for cyclicism asserts itself in the final movement, much in the manner of his Symphony No. 4 in D minor.  The keyboard part feels liberated, at first in a manner close to Chopin. The martial rhythm of the scherzo reappears as a major player, as do intervals and riffs from the first two movements. While some may criticize this late Schumann work as repetitious and a sign of failing powers, those who embrace its passion and force will find only mastery and economical musical means.

The Op. 88 Phantasiestuecke (1842; rev. 1850) look to the folk elements in Haydn as their inspiration. The opening Romanze, melancholy in spirit, moves its cello line in the same pattern as the keyboard without huge demands for virtuosity. The extended Humoreske rearranges aspects of the opening piece as a march or maerchen that Schumann assigns a circular design. Schumann adds a charming coda that constitutes an elegant sauce to a delightful bowl of musical fruits. The third movement, designated Duett: Langsam und mit Ausdruck, has the two strings in melodic harmony over a rippling keyboard. The Finale: Im Marsch-Tempo, finds invention from the preceding Humoreske, but now the motion becomes grand and luminous. The syncopations increase, Schumann’s pitting chordal motion against canonic writing, a florid effect Ramakrishnan compares to elements in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony!  The occasional drone-effect once more invokes Haydn and Beethoven of the Pastoral Symphony, whose models clearly inspired Schumann in his breezy chamber music effort.  Sound quality, courtesy of Engineer Judith Sherman, proves first rate.

—Gary Lemco

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