Hyperion Records

Piano Trio in B flat major, Op 21 B51
14 ?May 1875

'Dvořák: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2' (CDA67572)
Dvořák: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2
Movement 1: Allegro molto
Movement 2: Adagio molto e mesto
Movement 3: Allegretto scherzando
Movement 4: Allegro vivace

Piano Trio in B flat major, Op 21 B51
There are perhaps signs that Dvorák was still struggling to form his easy melodic gift into a full-scale ‘serious’ chamber work, but there can be no doubting the identity of the composer as the trio opens. The serene arch of the theme, with its harmonies fluctuating between major and relative minor, is pure Dvorák. A sudden burst of energy transforms this opening into a falling arpeggio figure, which leads on to the first fully fledged melody, over a rocking figure. There is another surge of energy, which subsides to the second main theme. This is as characteristic as the opening, with its gentle, reiterated phrases in folk-style, and it dominates the remainder of this first section. The central development returns to the arching melody of the opening and its rapid arpeggio transformation, building two climaxes from these elements. The second climax culminates in a majestic return to the opening, now fortissimo. The movement is capped by a powerful coda, which subsides to a charming, unexpectedly quiet ending.

The Adagio molto e mesto is in the contemplative style of a dumka and is one of Dvorák’s most heartfelt slow movements. The melancholy opening theme in G minor is explored three times, first by the piano, then by the cello, and finally by the violin. This third paragraph leads into new keys, arriving eventually in A major, and here the second theme begins. Like the second theme of the first movement, it is made up of little repeated phrases almost in ‘folk’ manner, but formed into a beautiful developing shape in Dvorák’s most relaxed and lyrical style. The music becomes more agitated, subsides again, and returns to the opening melody, now in F sharp minor rather than in its original key. An insistent drumbeat in the bass of the piano leads to another build-up, but this evaporates into an ecstatic reprise of the second theme. Eventually the music winds round to G minor, and the first theme is boldly restated fortissimo, finally settling to a dark pianissimo to end the movement.

The Allegretto scherzando has a charming, song-like informality, beginning with the violin and cello in counterpoint. A series of accelerations, decelerations, and broader tempo changes underlines the sense of a delightful narrative unfolding. The central trio has a longer span, and a more serious demeanour. The finale (Allegro vivace) begins with an exploration in G minor and seems very like Schumann, almost quoting the opening of his Piano Trio in F major. It is Schumann-like too in its fluid harmonies, the interplay between the three instruments, and its gradual build-up of energy. This culminates in a sturdy fortissimo theme in the home key of B flat. A second theme has a gentler swing, and an extended discussion develops from it. While the swinging rhythm continues, the dumka theme from the slow movement reappears in the cello (again, this might be inspired by one of the great piano trios, Schubert’s E flat trio D929). This leads on to the reprise, and finally into an exuberant coda.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2008

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