The Max Brod Trio bring a welcome sense of clarity and focus
to these well-known Dvorák chamber works. The structure of the
Dumky is far from clear-cut, but the players make a convincing
case for its unity. And there is also a sense of intimacy that
pervades the recording, as you would hope to find in all chamber
music, but rarely do.
Despite its enduring popularity, the Dumky Trio poses a range
of interpretive challenges to performers. Rather than structure
the work as a traditional four-movement trio, Dvorák instead
gives us a sequence of movements, each in the form of a dumka
dance, that is a slow introduction followed by an allegro conclusion.
The structure of each individual movement relies on the transition
from slow to fast, which Dvorák achieves in a different way
in each movement. In each case, he is relying on a sense of
surprise, and it is up to the performers to deliver that without
relying on undue exaggeration. Nothing comes as a surprise to
the players, and there is occasionally a feeling that the meticulous
preparation they have put in has damped the spontaneity of these
(supposedly) folk dances.
The sheer sophistication of this reading is the one aspect of
it that may turn listeners off. Dvorák has taken the Ukrainian
dance form - which according to the liner he first learnt of
from Janáček - and transformed it for a concert hall setting.
The players take that chamber music context for granted and
make no effort to recapture the music's folk origins. That isn't
necessarily a problem, but to me some of the charm is lost,
and without those folk inflections the music risks sounding
like second-rate Brahms.
The slow introductions are also more restrained than you will
find in most recordings. Where many performers use the following
allegro as an excuse for indulgence in each of the preceding
adagios, the Max Brod Trio keep a fairly even tempo throughout,
with only very controlled rubato and a sense of direction that
keeps the music flowing. That allows the overall work to make
more structural sense, but sometimes the slow sections seem
in need of a little more space.
Curiously, the Max Brod Trio recorded this work only four years
previously. That was for a different label (Arcodiva UP 0098
- 2 131) and both the violin and cello parts were taken by different
players (see footnote). Perhaps the work makes regular appearances
on their concert programmes, or perhaps it just sells well.
To me, though, this isn't an ideal performance, it is a convincing
foil against the many, many over-indulgent readings on the market,
but only works on its own terms thanks to the high technical
standards of the playing and recording.
I'm always curious about how MDG achieve their impressive results,
given their avoidance of post-production manipulation. The quality
of the performers they work with must be part of the answer.
But whatever they do to achieve it, the sound is always good.
I'm particularly impressed with the balance here, and the way
that the cello provides a focused bass sound without ever overpowering.
In fact, the cello playing from Maximilian von Pfeil, is a real
asset for this ensemble. It is elegant and emotive, but without
ever being overstated. Chamber performance at its best.
The Op.65 Trio suits this ensemble's approach better, I think,
than the Dumky. It has a more traditional form and a more involved
dramatic architecture that works with rather than against their
sophisticated interpretive approach. I love the way that they
land running at the start of the work, fully engaging the listener
from the very first note. And the quiet interludes here really
benefit from the players' continuing awareness of the structural
logic, a marked contrast to the rushed feeling that it gives
to the Dumky adagios. Despite not being as famous, the Op.65
is a more coherent and logical work than the Dumky. It also
provides a much better vehicle for the Max Brod Trio's considerable
Thanks for running Gavin Dixon's review of the Max Brod Trio
but he is mistaken when he writes "...both the violin and
cello parts were taken by different players" on their earlier
recording of Dumky [http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2011/June11/Dvorak_70316822.htm].
In fact, it is only the cellist who changed! Petr Mateják
is the violinist on both recordings.
Raymond Weiss Artist Mgmt. Inc.