Smetana: Piano Trio; Liszt: Elegies
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Liszt: Tristia; Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth; Romance oubliée; Elegies Nos 1 & 2; La lugubre gondole; Smetana: Piano Trio, Op. 15
PERFORMER: Trio Wanderer
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902060
What a fascinating issue this is. The combination of arrangements and original compositions variously for piano, violin and cello by Liszt and Smetana’s marvellous G minor Piano Trio is appropriate. Liszt was an early admirer of Smetana’s work at a time when the Czech composer was struggling to establish a reputation.
Early professional travails combined with great personal sorrow – his beloved daughter, the four-year-old Bedriska, died of scarlet fever in 1855 – prompted him to compose the Trio. One of the landmarks of Romantic chamber music, it marks the start of an experimental strand in Czech chamber music that led to Dvorák’s Dumky Trio and the Quartets of Janácˇek.
Liszt’s influence is to be heard in the Trio, notably in the first movement, but Smetana’s brand of lyricism is everywhere apparent, most touchingly in the second trio of the central scherzo (Allegro, ma non agitato).
The Wanderer Trio are very successful in the six chamber works by Liszt, negotiating the fearsome virtuosity of Tristia – a transcription of the solo piano work ‘La Vallée d’Obermann’ – with confidence.
Their performance of the Smetana Trio is not as convincing. While always in command of its technical demands, their approach in the first movement is over-emphatic, at times almost hectoring, a characteristic not helped by the rather hard recorded piano sound.
The scherzo and finale are certainly both exhilarating, but I miss the depth and tenderness that the Smetana Trio, among other groups, bring to this remarkable work. Jan Smaczny