is often said that Dvořák owed
a great deal of his style as a composer
to the influence of Brahms, but the
opening work on this splendid recital
is proof indeed that the Czech master
was no mere copycat, having composed
his opus 21 trio before Brahms became
known in Prague, and before Dvořák
came under the German’s influence.
The composer referred
to the music of the period of 1865-1872
as being from his "mad period,"
a time when he was consolidating his
ideas and attempting to expand classical
forms to a state that he considered
their "logical conclusion."
With the advent of opus 21 in 1875,
we find that he had arrived at his own
signature style, a style that was characterized
by a formal structure marked by balance
and proportion, thematic cohesion, and
the incorporation an ever noticeable
nationalist color into his compositions.
In particular, he often utilized Bohemian
dance forms such as the polka and the
It has always been,
in my opinion, a disservice
to Dvořák to write him off as some
sort of stepchild of Brahms. His compositional
output is actually considerably greater
than Brahms’ and there is very little
with which to find fault, as is exemplified
by the quality of the music on this
Opus 21 opens with
a sweeping and lengthy allegro movement,
full of rich romantic themes and virtuoso
keyboard writing. The lyrical slow movement
is chock with rich melody and is based
on the Ukranian folk dance, the dumka,
although somewhat modified. The scherzo,
a polka of sorts is the most nationalistic
section of the work, and as Klaus Doege’s
excellent program notes point out, is
the result of careful and diligent study
of native Slavonic folk music and not
the childhood influences misattributed
to the composer’s upbringing by early
biographers. It closes with a rollicking
Opus 65 is a work born
out of struggle with the composer rewriting
long passages of the work, and even
rearranging the order of the movements.
Considerably more moody and dramatic
than many of his earlier works, there
is a palpable weight and seriousness
to this work from the opening chords.
The sweep and pathos of the opening
movement is almost Beethovenian in scope.
There may have been several contributing
factors as to the overall gloominess
of Opus 65. One was the death of his
mother, whom he revered greatly; another
may have been the failure of his opera
Dimitrij, for which German critics accused
the composer of having no dramatic talent.
There is certainly no shortage of drama
in this chamber work.
The Vienna Piano trio
is an excellently refined ensemble,
with a fine sense of balance proportion
and with virtuoso technique to burn.
Able to exert passion and to hold back
to the point of breathlessness, these
musicians run the emotional gamut sometimes
at lightening pace. They are particularly
adept in more elegiac passages to maintain
a sense of forward motion while captivating
the listener with the sheer beauty of
the moment. This is an ensemble with
a superb ability to communicate and
their performance is riveting from the
opening chord to the last. To their
everlasting credit, they are quite devoid
of mannerism, and play with a straightforward
sincerity that is utterly rewarding.
Dabringhaus and Grimm
have once again produced a recording
that is superior in every respect; sound
quality is warm, clear and present with
the perfect amount of reverberation
and resonance to satisfy. Production
values are of the first order too, with
lovely packaging and excellent program
notes. This is a winner through and
through both musically and technically.