Triptych = BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2; BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101; BOLCOLM: Piano Trio (2014) – Delphi Trio – MSR MS 1674, 68:50 (11/14/18) [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The Delphi Trio formed while the principals – Liana Berube, violin; Michelle Kwon, cello; and Jeffrey LaDeur, piano – studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and have since garnered a major prize at the 2015 Orlando Concours in the Netherlands. The appearance of William Balcolm’s 2014 Piano Trio pays homage to the ensemble’s having given the work’s world premiere. The three trios were recorded at Southern Oregon University, under the supervision of Matt Carr, 19-21 December 2017.
The program opens with Beethoven’s 1808 Piano Trio No. 6 in E-flat Major, the companion-piece to the so-called “Ghost” Trio, Op. 70, No. 1. The music at first assumes an “antique” sound, with the cello’s making a melancholy statement in 4/4, Poco sostenuto, with violin’s entry creating the motion of a ricercare, followed by the keyboard: the pattern of entries will reverse in the recapitulation. The Allegro non troppo, 6/8, bubbles forth in folk style, disclaiming in unison and then by way of imitation. The light, right-hand keyboard textures indicate the dexterity the composer himself possessed for indulgence in chamber music. The string influence of Haydn permeates the Allegretto, a double theme-and-variations, set as a quasi-pompous march capable of rhythmic flexibility. The jaunty C Major tune finds a more tumultuous version of itself in syncopated C minor. The dialogues between violin and cello prove captivating and energetic. The tendency to subdivide the beat adds a pert charm to the procession, inventive and diverse in texture, a true homage to Master Haydn’s sterling example.
The ensuing Allegretto non troppo suggests a Minuet and Trio, set in A-flat Major and spinning out a luxuriant melody that has much of an operatic aria about it. Some passing chromaticism marks the movement into the dark Trio, the strings in antiphons over running arpeggios in the piano. The “antique” feeling reminds us of the opening of the work. The last movement, Allegro in high spirits, affords each member of Delphi a cadenza or virtuoso passage to spotlight his particular contribution before rejoining the ensemble. Beethoven has withheld the piano part’s capacity for heroic dominance – in his favorite E-flat modality – so that now, in the development, the music assumes the power of a moto perpetuo with accompanied fanfares. The soaring beauty and expressive facility of the Delphi realization bring me fondly back to my earliest encounter with this masterwork as rendered by Heifetz, Piatagorsky, and Pennario.
William Bolcolm (b. 1938) had turned 76 without ever having composed a piano trio, at least until Delphi commissioned one, dedicated to the ensemble. Bolcolm, clearly under the spell of Johannes Brahms, attempts to integrate the European tradition with the Great American Songbook, and so follows a course early defined by Charles Ives. The opening movement, energetic, embraces potent minor chords and passionate string work before the piano announces a darkly chromatic motif that has the strings responding in syncopes. The piano introduces another version of the theme, parlando, that becomes a source of polyphony and misty harmonies, a cross between Ligeti and Bartok. The second movement, serene; molto sostenuto, opens with a keyboard repeated phrase, over which the strings harmonize in moody, nostalgic figures. The “ricercare” sound we heard in Beethoven occurs here, plaintive and somewhat eerie. If this sonority has a musical antecedent, try Bartok’s notion of “night music.” The last movement, strongly driven, opens with a deep bass chord from LaDeur, caught up by the strings, but then the music propels in irregular, jazzy divisions of the beat punctuated by sudden glissandos in the strings and runs and staccato scales in the piano. The music has the emotional tenor of film noir scoring, such as we know from Alex North. What grants the music credibility for the chamber music stage lies in its breadth and often symphonic tenor. Late in the music, the mood and texture become subdued and darkly intimate, reflective; and then, on the last page, the veil lifts for an elusive moment.
Brahms wrote his own dark, passionate Trio No. 3 in C minor in 1886 Switzerland. Delphi considers the piece the spiritual progenitor of the Bolcolm Trio. Typical of the late Brahms style, the groups of triplets rise and fall in martial punctuations, a strong cousin of the Fourth Symphony. The music has a sense of economy, the structure and developmental materials pared down for symmetry in ¾ time that occasionally accommodates a Viennese waltz incarnation. We have encountered the dark tension in Brahms in another C minor work, his Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60. What follows, the Presto non troppo, remains in the stealthy minor key, with strings muted, so whatever scherzo capacity the music holds, it rarely escapes the veil. Brahms originally conceived his slow movement Andante grazioso in C Major, in 7/4, so the rhythmic shifts occur in patterns of ¾ and 2/4. A lullaby effect suffuses the movement, with the two strings performing for small distances sans keyboard, adumbrating the Op. 102 Double Concerto. The central section proves no less metrically anomalous, with shifts in 9/8 and 6/8. The last movement, Allegro molto, pays homage to Schumann’s love of marches, this in 6/8 and attaching a kind of chorale to the declamation. The impulse to Schumann’s love of duality shines forth in the tug of war between C minor and c Major, the latter of which grudgingly triumphs. Some passionate evocations from Berube’s violin brought back fond memories of Joseph Suk in this music, which he shared with Janos Starker and Julius Katchen: certainly proud comparisons for such a youth ensemble, well on its way to further glories.
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