Tuesday, February 3 2016
92nd Street Y, New York, NY
Pinchas Zukerman, violin
Amanda Forsyth, cello
Angela Cheng, piano
Dvořák, Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90, “Dumky” (1891)
Beethoven, Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97, “Archduke” (1811)
Something new this week: chamber music! For a self-proclaimed classical music enthusiast, I really have quite a narrow comfort zone, don’t I? Non-orchestral music typically need not apply, but I’m working on changing that. Since I’ve yet to have an unfavorable reaction to anything composed by Dvořák and Beethoven, this program is as good of a starting point as any.
Dvořák, with his accessible brand of Bohemian rhapsody, is the ideal chamber composer. Maybe I’m mostly drawn to the gravitas of Teutonic struggle, but lighter fare is enjoyable in moderation. Actually, a dumka is a traditional lament of captive people, yet the piece radiates a very outgoing vibe. There are passages of quiet anguish, but they are interspersed and contrasted with upbeat melodies of celebration. The cello took on the part of mourning, and the piano, the effervescent interludes. The violin was barely there–I mean, I’m sure that’s not what the composer intended, but that’s how the performance came off.
The “Archduke” may not be among Beethoven’s top ten hits, but the archduke in question, Rudoph, was also the namesake of the famed Emperor concerto, the piece that started my obsession with the composer. Beethoven finished the trio shortly before starting work on his Seventh Symphony, which is interesting because the two pieces couldn’t be further apart, musically if not thematically. In fact the “Archduke” shares some similarities with the “Dumky” played in the first half of the program. Like the “Dumky”, it also displays great contrast between episodes of dynamic outbursts (in this case punctuated by the strings) and the more understated backdrop (created by the piano). Supposedly the piano part was written to be relatively simple so that the patron himself could give the work its premier, and the soul of the piece lies within the cello part in the third movement. (By design, isn’t cello the soul of every trio?) Unfortunately, the cellist had a bit of a instrument malfunction. To my untrained ear, I couldn’t tell what was wrong, but she was visibly distracted for the last two movements and the trio paused for a long time after the third movement so that she could fix her cello. I’m sure on a better day they could have made more of an impression, but in some sense, the most enjoyable a chamber piece could be for me is to not make too much of an impression. I like symphonies to overwhelm me, but at this point in my life and musical education I think I prefer chamber pieces to just float me by, enchanting me without swallowing me whole. And tonight’s performers and source material did just that.