Thursday, July 23, 2020

iPalpiti Festival 2020 Livestreaming

Trio Zadig play Tchaikovsky and Dvořák from Paris

Tchaikovsky in 1877.
As a title, “The Months” has hardly the turning-of-the-year resonance of “The Seasons,” but it would be a more accurate appellation for the 12 piano pieces commissioned late in 1875 from Tchaikovsky by the St. Petersburg editor Nikolai Bernard. These were for the following year’s editions of his monthly music magazine Nuvellist, and Bernard also chose subjects for each piece—e.g. January “by the fireside,” April the “snowdrop”, June a “barcarolle”, and so on—and all 12 editions (except, according to one source, September) opened with that month’s piece alongside a short poem and graphic illustration, also selected by Bernard. 

Though they share a simple ABA form, there’s plenty of variety in mood, texture, and pace across the dozen months in The Seasons Op. 37a, and so while they make a quite satisfactory whole, totaling 40-45 minutes, they also excerpt well. Trio Zadig, artists-in-residence at the Fondation Singer-Polignac in Paris, opened their contribution to this year’s (inevitably mostly virtual) iPalpiti Festival, with five selections in the arrangement for piano trio by the little-known Russian composer Alexander Goedicke (1877-1957). 

Alexander Goedicke.
Whatever the merits of Goedicke’s own music (n.b. to self: see what’s on YouTube), in these arrangements he seems not to put a foot wrong. Leaving Tchaikovsky’s piano original largely unaltered in those passages where the violin and cello are silent, elsewhere he skillfully allots melodic lines to either or both of the strings, with or without mutes as appropriate, and with much use of pizzicato coloring.

Trio Zadig’s selection cleverly moved through one month per season: the warmly confiding January by its fireside followed by the freshness of April’s snowdrop, in turn succeeded by the memorably wistful barcarole of June—the one indelibly knockout Tchaikovsky tune in the whole set, which has resulted in it being far more frequently performed as a standalone item than any of the others.

So far, so good, with the music spaciously and sensitively characterized in the clear acoustic of the Fondation’s recital room (the screen image of the two strings quite close together, well in front of the piano, emphasized that the latter was rather backwardly balanced), but to have inserted the vigorous and quite brief September “Hunt” between June and the even more soulful “Autumn Song” of October would have broken up 10+ minutes of rather unrelieved Slavic melancholy. No matter, concluding with December’s waltz—just as in the complete work—was exactly right: elegantly and unhurriedly swaying for the most part, with the Trio delivering perfectly Tchaikovsky’s subtle, throwaway end. 

Antonin Dvořák.
Cellist Marc Girard-Garcia took rather more notice of Dvořák’s Lento maestoso marking than the metronome quarter-note = 56 at the head of the first movement of the Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor Op. 90 B. 166 “Dumky”, composed in 1891, and with his forward balance and sweeping phrasing, kicked the work off powerfully indeed, arguably a little too portentously for the high-spirited dance into which the movement devolves.

For me, this pattern of over-emphasizing contrasts of dynamic and pace, loading the slow music with weight it’s not quite up to carrying, and precipitating jolting charges into the fast sections, carried through the whole performance. But then, I am probably in a minority of one in finding the Dumky Trio as a whole a rather odd, unsatisfactory bird in Dvořák’s chamber music. But there’s no denying the sheer panache and professionalism of his piano trio writing per se, and M. Girard-Garcia and his colleagues Boris Borgolotto (violin) and Ian Barber (piano) certainly played throughout with great beauty, commitment, and unanimity.

Let’s hope we have the chance to hear them again live in Southern California when this craziness is finally over. Meanwhile you can enjoy these performances online by clicking either the image above or here


Photos: Tchaikovsky: Tchaikovsky Research; Goedicke: Bach Cantatas website; Dvořák: Wikimedia Commons.

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