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Piano Trios
The Weilerstein Trio
E-1 Music

[ed. note: This just recieved:

We were disappointed to read Phil Muse’s recent review of The Weilerstein Trio’s release in which he states that he, “lost touch with (Donald Weilerstein and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein) for a time, due in part to the demise of Arabesque, a fine American label whose loss is to be lamented.” We appreciate the labeling of Arabesque Recordings as a “fine American label,” however, we are clearly still operating and very active. Mr. Muse would be happy to know that he can still purchase The Weilerstein Duo’s Arabesque releases via this link on our website.

Sincerely, Chaim Roberts — A&R Coordinator, Arabesque Recordings ]

I remember listening with pleasure to the spousal duo of violinist Donald Weilerstein and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein back in the 90’s. I lost touch with them for a time, due in part to the demise of Arabesque, a fine American label whose loss is to be lamented. In the meantime, their cellist daughter Alisa came of age and developed a strong artistic presence of her own, so the family is now the Weilerstein Trio. The present offering of trios by Robert Schumann and Leoš Janáček shows what a happy combination that is.

The Weilersteins inform their performance of the Janáček Piano Trio known as “The Kreutzer Sonata” with the greatest precision, fire and commitment. This is an insightful rewriting by Stephen Coxe of Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 with the same subtitle, which was written contemporaneously with a now-lost piano trio. Both were inspired by Tolstoy’s famous story of infidelity, jealousy and murder. The tale intrigued Janáček because of the parallel with two of those themes (happily, not murder) in his own life. While his music is certainly not programmatic, the literary inspiration accounts for the turbulence and discord in this work, beginning with the violent forte on a bi-tonal basis in its very opening bars.

Terseness of expression and the composer’s trademark vocal inflections replace melody and harmony in the usual sense. Intense psychological realism is what the work demands, and gets, in the present performance. We frequently hear repeated notes, jagged rhythms and instruments played in non-idiomatic, non-traditional ways so that we’re not always sure which instrument is taking a particular snatch of a theme. The slow movement is typical of Janáček’s approach, with its sad, tragically hued melody interrupted by the most discordant outbursts. If you are a more traditional listener, you may not always love what you hear, but the affective power of this work and its performance is undeniable.

Schumann may seem at first blush to be an odd companion for Janáček in this recital, but he too was one who pushed the envelope for new modes of expression in the music of his day. His Duos for Piano & Cello with Piano Accompaniment after Etudes in Canonic Form, Op. 56, heard here in the transcription by the cellist Paul Bazelaire, and his Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110 were both written during times of great emotional distress for Schumann, though the results show a command of his material that belies the mental condition in which he wrote them. The Op. 56 pieces, which actually fit together very well as a single work, were products of Schumann’s study of Bachian counterpoint, though they are so expressive and melodically enchanting, one has to make a special effort to listen for the composer’s secure contrapuntal mastery.

Op. 110 is a sweeping romantic work, touched by a gentle melancholy that the composer wears like a mantle that is not at all burdensome. The beautiful interplay between the instruments allows all three ample opportunities to have their moments in the sunlight without detracting from the overall ensemble. The slow movement, marked Ziemlich langsam (rather slowly) is marked by a beautiful melody for the two strings, punctuated by gentle chords from the piano. It is interrupted briefly by more agitated material, reminiscent of the Bewegt mood of the opening movement, before the trio take charge of matters once again and sing this lovesong-like movement to serene, peaceful sleep. The Scherzo, marked Rasch, is thrilling, the finale, Kraftig mit Humor (powerfully, with humor), is a delightful Schubertian romp with invigoratingly quirky changes of mood, texture, and key.

One Response to “Janáček + Schumann”
  1. Phil Muse says:

    To Chaim Roberts:

    I’m sorry for the factual error, and also glad to know that Arabesque is still in business. I’ve always warmly regarded Arabesque as one of the independent American labels that have done so much of the good work in the classical industry over the past 30+ years. Best wishes for continued success!

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