Shaham Erez Wallfisch Trio – Dvorak Piano Trio No. 3 – Nimbus Records

by | Jul 21, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Piano Trio in F Minor, Op. 65; Sonatina in G Major, Op. 100; 3 Slavonic Dances (arr. Kreisler) – Hagai Shaham, violin/ Arnon Erez, piano/ Raphael Wallfisch, cello – Nimbus NI 5952 (6/2/23) (68:59) [] ****:

Recorded in two distinct venues and at separate times, the 1883 Piano Trio (8-9 March 2019, in Monmouth, UK) and the 1893 Sonatina and Slavonic Dances (31 January 2021, in Tel Aviv, Israel) serve as excellent vehicles for the ensemble, both in trio format or violin and piano duo.  I decided to audition with the Kreisler’s 1914 arrangement of the Slavonic Dances, as performed by Shaham and Erez. The first, that in E Minor, Op. 46/2 (1878) now comes to us in G Minor, and Kreisler intercedes the da capo of the ternary form with a moment from the B Major, Op. 72/1 (1886). Shaham thus assembles and presents a slow, tender Dumka. The most often played of the transcriptions, that in E Minor, Op. 72/2 (1886), another Dumka, Shaham renders in blatantly sentimental terms, a la the Kreisler salon style for Vienna. For the last of two sets by Dvorak, the Op. 72/8, Shaham plays a transposition from the original A-flat to G Major, which brightens the affect, enriched by the use of frequent double stops.

The 1883 Piano Trio in F Minor projects, for Dvorak, a severe, darkly dramatic sensibility, the format easily reminiscent of the approaches of Beethoven and Brahms. Personal tragedy, by way of family losses, plagued Dvorak at this time, encouraging his native, Bohemian melancholy. Despite the somber opening gambit in the strings, the piano announces, for the expansive Allegro ma non troppo, a more theatrical potential, and the music gravitates to the secondary melody in D-flat Major, which is then restated in F Major. The interplay between Shaham and Erez alternates between fierce passion and tender reflection, while the occasional cello duo with Wallfisch and Erez evokes a hearty nostalgia. The recapitulation uses the Brahms technique of thematic stretti, building a colossal tension, rich in Bohemian rhythms, that drives on to the energetic coda, poco più mosso, quasi vivace.

A moment of relative, emotional leisure occurs in the Allegretto grazioso in C#, 2/4, which can easily glide into its enharmonic guise of D-flat. Built like a scherzo, the music betrays in tis middle section that dark cast of temperament, even though the music briefly sails into E Major. Folkish cross rhythms and syncopations keep our interest in every measure, especially given Dvorak’s ability to set minute variations into each repetition of phrase. The D-flat Trio section allows pianist Erez some bravura right hand work. The coda projects Bohemian energy. But in the poignant Poco adagio Dvorak’s personal grief comes to the fore, an A-flat Major duet between violin and cello. The piano extends the affect, and the violin introduces a new theme, marked fortissimo, marcato that bears a funereal resolve. Yet another theme in B Major offers consolation, to which Wallfisch’s cello adds tender harmonization in the A-flat that colored their former duet. The piano has a brief cadenza segue for the strings to comment upon, with a heartbreaking sense of farewell.

Antonin Dvorak

Antonin Dvorak

The last movement, Allegro con brio, proceeds in the rondo-sonata format established so brilliantly by Haydn. A Bohemian furiant, the music quickly reasserts the grim resolve let earlier, here in the fateful home key of F Minor. The music soon breaks into episodes, even transforming the main motif into a sad waltz, similar to those of Dvorak’s set, Op. 54. The underlying, tragic pulse, traceable to Brahms, reigns as the music gathers a new momentum, repeating the main idea in canon and in extended, bravura runs for Erez. The strident energy becomes almost anguished at times, with only the waltz theme to provide relief, first from Shaham and then Erez. Late in the development section, a burst of G-flat Minor and then silence invests a dramatically mysterious element into the mix, the instruments coloring the moment each in his own way. Dvorak has prepared us for a grand progression to the coda, the opening motif in grand transformation. A moment of Dvorak’s patented “and so my children” folk moral, and the last measures resound with a power Beethoven could claim as his own.

In 1893, Dvorak began to assemble musical ideas for performance by his children, daughter Otilka and son Tonik. The work was to be melodically sonorous, ripe with folk elements, but within the grasp of gifted amateurs. Shaham and Erez make the opening movement, Allegro risoluto, eminently affable and songful. The harmonic move follows tradition to the dominant, but the meat of melody lies in E Minor, in which piano and violin alternate roles. The harmonies become adventurous, winding up in B-flat Major before finding their way back to G and a soft coda.

The second movement Larghetto became a cause celebre through the advocacy of Fritz Kreisler, in his 1914 transcription.  A weeping motif opens the music, proceeding in a simple dialogue, parlando, and soon filling out in luxurious song. A middle section invokes sweeping, light chords from the piano, and Shaham repeats short phrases that soon droop back into the main melody. The Scherzo in G combines humor and tender sentiment, with violin and piano indulging in some vivid, barn-yard antics that soar and march. The middle section in C provides a militant contrast, briefly and not too seriously. The da capo resounds in high spirits. The Finale, a real hoe-down movement, involves contrasting hues in animated rhythms, often reminiscent of gambits in the New World Symphony.  This seems especially true when Dvorak moves into E Major, which resembles that symphony’s Largo movement. Otherwise, the folkish energy of the theme in G Minor reigns and enters into that light-hearted march that becomes infectious. The music returns to the tonic G Major, nostalgic and lyrical, no less rife with that folk-tale “moral” that invokes a meaning more universal than any “mere” strain from Moravia.

—Gary Lemco

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