HAYDN Piano Trio in B flat Hob. XV:20 (16’)
DVOŘÁK Piano Trio in G minor Op.26 (35’)
SMETANA Piano Trio in G minor (30’)
Following a packed-out performance at the Crucible Playhouse in February, Sheffield favourite, the Leonore Piano Trio, continue their series of Romantic trios – music full of high drama and intense passion – contrasting with the intimate simplicity of work by Haydn.
Dvořák and Smetana are two of Bohemia’s greatest composers, and their trios in this concert explore an incredible range of emotions, with both ending in a blazing glory of light and optimism.
HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in B flat Hob. XV:20
Haydn wrote piano trios throughout his career, but many of them dated from later in his life. The B flat Piano Trio was completed in 1794 during Haydn’s second stay in London, one of a set of three first published in the same year by the London firm of Longman and Broderip with a dedication to Princess Maria Therese of Esterhazy. The first movement (Allegro) is full of typically Haydnesque verve, some unusual sonorities and numerous delightful touches. In the slow movement (Andante cantabile), the theme is presented in the piano left hand before Haydn embarks on a series of delicate and subtle variations, each instrument contributing the colours and contrasts of each iteration of the theme before coming to rather an abrupt end. The finale (Allegro) is an amiable delight, recalling the style and the expressive range of the finales of Haydn’s mature string quartets, moving from quiet charm to moments of pathos and back again, to bring the work to an affirmative close.
© Nigel Simeone
DVOŘÁK Antonín, Piano Trio in G minor Op.26
Scherzo. Presto – Trio. Poco meno mosso – Presto da capo
Allegro non tanto
Dvořák composed this Piano Trio in January 1876 at a time of great personal sadness: his daughter Josefa had died in infancy a few months earlier and the composer embarked on three works: this trio, the String Quartet in E major, and the Stabat mater, each of which can be considered a kind of memorial to Josefa. It was first performed on 29 June 1879 with Dvořák himself at the piano at a concert in the Bohemian town of Turnov. The mood of the trio is predominantly melancholic and tender, with a strong aura of nostalgia, but there is a clear national identity too.
A review in the Athenaeum following the first London performance in May 1880 expressed some reservations about Dvořák’s handling of form in the first movement, but praised ‘a succession of charmingly fresh and piquant ideas, more or less suggestive of the nationality of the composer. Some of the themes are so unmistakably Slavonic in character that Dvořák may possibly have culled them from the stores of folksongs ready to be utilized with effect in instrumental composition. Whether this be so or not, the entire trio, and especially the two middle movements, pleases on account of its thematic beauty and easy, unstudied expression.’
© Nigel Simeone
SMETANA Bedrich, Piano Trio in G minor
Allegro, ma non agitato
Smetana noted down the tragic circumstances in which he composed the Piano Trio in his catalogue of works. He described it as ‘written in memory of my first child, Bedřiška, who enchanted us with her extraordinary musical talent, and yet was snatched away from us by death, aged four-and-a-half years.’ The grieving Smetana wrote this work – his only piano trio – between September and November 1855, and it was first performed in Prague on 3 December with the composer at the piano. Given that the work was written as a memorial, the surprise is that this trio contains no slow movement – and it’s certainly possible (as musicologist Basil Smallman suggested) that Smetana had to modify an earlier scheme that included one owing to pressure of time.
Two features of this trio are noteworthy: one is the powerful motto theme first heard at the very start – an idea that unifies much of what follows – and the other is Smetana’s use of popular Czech dance forms: the second movement is a Polka and the finale is based on the Skočná, a rapid jig-like dance. The reviews of the first performance included some negative comments about the work’s rhapsodic structure, and its use of folk elements that deviated from the abstract ‘purity’ expected in chamber music at the time. Smetana was understandably upset by this, but he was greatly heartened by the positive reaction to the work by a revered colleague: Franz Liszt.
© Nigel Simeone