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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Complete Piano Trios, vol. 1

Trio in B Major, Op. 21 [32’22]
Trio in f minor, Op. 65 [36’34]
Vienna Piano Trio: Wolfgang Redik, violin; Matthias Gredler, cello; Stefan Mendl, piano
Recorded December 18-20, 2003 at Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen, DDD
MDG 342 1261-2 [69’09]

It 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 dumka.

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 recording.

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 finale.

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.

Kevin Sutton

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