Phillip T Young Recital Hall
July 26, 2012
By and large, Johannes Brahms successfully avoided the Great Numerical Affliction which affected Nineteenth-Century composers from Beethoven to Dvořák. With Brahms, for the most part, what you count is what you get: his Symphony No.1 was composed first, then number two, etc, etc.
There is, admittedly, a slight difficulty with the string quartets: if we take Brahms at his word, he composed and destroyed some twenty quartets before the one known as number one. Nonetheless, the three which do survive are numbered chronologically.
The one big exception to all of this is his Op.8 piano trio, originally composed in 1853. The version which is today almost exclusively performed actually dates from 1889; Brahms himself jokingly referred to as Op.108, although it appeared in print for the second time with the identical opus number.
What caused Brahms to revisit his first chamber work after three and a half decades?
Although he and most of his friends were content with the original version when it was written, there was one very significant demurral, from Clara Schumann, whose reaction to a first hearing was that she could "only wish for another first movement as the present one does not satisfy me, although I admit that its opening is fine."
Given the young (he was no more than twenty) composer's feelings for Clara, which hardly diminished with the passage of time, it is not surprising that when, in 1888 Fritz Simrock, who had just taken over as his publisher, asked if he would care to revise any of his earlier works, Brahms leaped at the opportunity and spent the summer of 1889 on the revision.
Although posterity has largely sided with the revision, Brahms himself did not withdraw the earlier version, in fact he suggested that the two be advertised side by side.
It was with Brahms's Op.8 that William Preucil, Eric Kim and Arthur Rowe concluded their excellent recital on Thursday night, the second concert in this year's Victoria Summer Music Festival.
From the work's glorious opening, this was a big, full-blooded performance. The unanimity of string tone between Preucil and Kim was superb and the balance between all three players immaculate.
The succeeding scherzo (for once, the designation is entirely accurate) was full of rhythmic life and the gentle trio occupied similar emotional space to Brahms' famous lullaby.
The final two movements followed almost attacca, the adagio featuring playing of an intense concentration and singular beauty.
In Brahms' revision of the trio, it was the finale which underwent the most dramatic change, yet despite (or perhaps because of?) this, it seems the least successful movement. This, I hasten to point out, had nothing to do with the playing, which maintained the same high level we had heard all evening. Wonderful.
Anton Arensky's posthumous reputation is probably more via his pupils (most notably Rachmaninov and Scriabin), not to mention the Arensky Glacier in the Antarctic, than his music.
Arensky's Piano Trio No.1 (of two) is his most frequently-performed work and was composed in memory of Karl Davidov, a cellist who had been Director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory during Arensky's student years.
Although his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, and, even more so, Tchaikovsky are always said to be Arensky's principal influences, to me there were obvious traces of Brahms and even, in some of the rhythmic figures, Dvořák.
Most importantly, though, the music is good enough to stand by itself, independently of its lineage; it is a fine work and a thoroughly satisfying one, particularly when this well played.
The opening movement was imbued with a tremendous sense of urgency, the bouncy scherzo, with its delightfully puckish spiccato bowing and ever-so-slightly "Palm Court" trio was delicious.
The heart of the work is the slow movement and the eloquence of the playing from all three musicians reached considerable heights. The dramatic finale features a brief reminiscence of the work's opening (another Dvořákian touch) before the dashing brilliance of the coda, to which the audience responded with appropriate warmth.
The programme opened with Mozart's Trio in B flat, K.502, in a performance of great poise. The slow movement's continuous cantabile was delectable and the gentle playfulness of the finale quite charming.
An evening to make one remember why one fell in love with the sound of the piano trio in the first place. Outstanding.