Piano Trio No.1 (5 Pièces brèves)
Piano Trio in F minor, Op.65
Florestan Trio [Susan Tomes (piano), Anthony Marwood (violin) & Richard Lester (cello)]
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 14 January, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The concluding instalment of the Florestan Trio’s ‘mostly Czech’ weekend gathered Martinů’s little-known ‘5 Pièces brèves’ paired with Dvořák’s F minor Trio, arguably his finest work in the medium despite the pervasive popularity of the ‘Dumky’ (Opus 90). As with the symphony ‘From the New World’ and the ‘American’ string quartet, the addition of a well-chosen sobriquet seems to have benefited all these works disproportionately at the expense of other equally fine works in each medium, notably the D minor symphony, the late A flat quartet and the F minor trio.
In common with the ‘Dumky’, Martinů’s short trio has an unusual number of movements, as its title makes clear. Dating from 1930, it is not the most ingratiating of works, the initial chattering Allegro moderato being strongly neo-classical and the central Allegro little more than Gebrauchsmusik. Such pleasures as were to be had came in the second movement Adagio in which Martinů’s natural lyricism breaks through in what is effectively an elegy and in the skittering toccata-like finale which makes considerable demands on the pianist – Susan Tomes surmounted this challenge with evident relish, whilst the group as a whole made the most of this unpromising work.
Unalloyed joy was to follow in this Sunday morning recital. Dvořák’s F minor trio is a large-scale work lasting around 40 minutes but like the ‘American’ quartet it contains not a redundant note and its relative neglect is a complete mystery. This is Dvořák at his very finest – the cello’s introduction of the second subject in the first movement – wonderfully played here by Richard Lester – is one of those moments which makes one fall in love with the composer every time one hears it. Ironically, Dvořák had considerable trouble with the work, deleting and rewriting sections several times, but it certainly does not show in the quality of the finished result.
Leaving the best till last, this was the most satisfying of the Florestan’s weekend offerings. It was a remarkably comprehensive reading of a difficult work, beautifully paced with every detail in place. Indicative of this was the care with which the ‘joins’ were handled; so too the group’s ability to structure a large-scale movement, not least weighting the moment of stillness before the finale’s exuberant dash to the finishing post. Particular pleasures were the lightly touched-in cross-rhythms of the second movement Czech dance, the depth the players found in the deep undertow of sadness present in the Adagio (Dvořák’s mother had died just two months before he started work on the work) and the perfectly chosen tempo for the finale, definitely ‘con brio’ but relaxed enough so as to allow for the integration of the various episodes of this wonderful but discursive movement.
One always feels with the Florestan Trio that the group ‘as a whole’ is greater than the sum of the parts, the musicians responding intuitively to each other and even quite possibly playing better collectively than as individuals: surely the mark of a true chamber-music ensemble.