Brahms / Schulhoff / Dvořák
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) composed five trios with piano. Three of them are for the standard piano trio forces, while the other two employ wind instruments: French horn (Trio in E flat major Op. 40) and clarinet (Trio in A minor Op. 114). All of them are among the composer’s best known works and are masterpieces of Romantic chamber music. Their extraordinary technical and expressive demands represent a challenge for even the most experienced ensembles, and it is no different for the opening concert of the Weekend of Chamber Music, which will introduce the festival’s artist-in-residence, the pianist Alexander Lonquich, the cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, and the violinist Vilde Frang.
The concert opens with the Trio C major Op. 87, which Brahms wrote in 1882 at a time when his life was undergoing major changes. After the success of his first two symphonies, he clearly turned away from the career of a piano virtuoso and dedicated himself more to composing. It so happens that in her diary, Brahms’s close friend Clara Schumann was unsparing in her harsh criticism: “Brahms plays more and more coarsely. Now it’s just a lot of noisy banging and careless fumbling around the keyboard.” As a composer, however, his maturation was intensifying. His appearance also underwent a radical change. He grew the beard that would later become so characteristic of him. Someone supposedly jested that while he had once looked like Clara Schumann’s son, he could now pass as her father. In any case, the enormous four-movement work captivates listeners with its inventiveness and its handling of its harmonic material, and its sophistication and complexity demonstrate the full breadth of mastery of a mature artist.
Gideon Klein (1919–1945) composed his Piano Sonata at the concentration camp in Terezín (Theresienstadt), to which he had been deported in December of 1941. This powerfully expressionistic work consists of three movements, the first of which, an extensive Allegro con fuoco, clearly predominates. The most complex part of the sonata is full of daring chromaticism, lending the music a gloomy feeling. A brief Adagio is surprising for its frequent and quite unexpected changes of tempo and dynamics, then the concluding Allegro Vivace resembles a strange dance full of contrasts. Undoubtedly one of the composer’s best known works, its original musical language still speaks to listeners of all generations.
The concert will conclude with the Piano Trio in F minor Op. 65 by Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), a work regarded as one of the composer’s supreme masterpieces in the chamber music genre. Written immediately after the death of Dvořák’s mother, this trio is imbued with uncertainty, sorrow, and doubts, which are elements that we encounter rather seldom in Dvořák’s music. For this reason, the trio is often called the chamber music counterpart to the Symphony No. 7 in D minor, which was composed during the same period.
In 2010, the cellist Nicolas Altstaedt won the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award, earning him the opportunity of performing Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at the famed Lucerne Festival. Since then, he has appeared in concert with a number of important orchestras around the world (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich) and with such conductors as Sir Neville Marriner, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Sir Roger Norrington. As a performer of chamber music, he has collaborated with Janine Jansen, Pekka Kuusisto, Jonathan Cohen, and the Quatuor Ébène. He plays a cello built by Giulio Cesare Gigli in ca. 1760.
The Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang made her debut under the baton of Mariss Jansons with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra at just twelve years of age. She has given solo recitals in the world’s leading concert halls (at the Concertgebouw, the Musikverein, and the Royal Albert Hall among others) and has performed brilliantly at the world’s leading festivals (Verbier, Salzburg, Lucerne, BBC Proms). Her recordings have won the prestigious ECHO Klassik Award, the Diapason d’Or, and the Gramophone Award. With the Violin Concerto by Erich von Korngold, she made her stunning Prague Spring debut in 2015. In his review of her Prague Spring premiere, the critic Ivan Žáček was unsparing in his praise: “She is quite rightly regarded as one of today’s greatest talents. Not allowing herself to be overshadowed by such outstanding violinists as Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer, Baiba Skride, and Janine Jansen, she makes it challenging for them even to keep pace with her. She demonstrated this again in the concerto by Korngold, which came across in her hands as an elegant, cleverly written piece in a post-Mahlerian vein – as if she were trying to tell us that even kitsch can be a masterpiece. In the third movement, she displayed geysers of technical mastery, a delicate spiccato, and perfectly executed transitions with tempo changes. Her playing features a kind of constant, nervous rubato and a round, pleasing tone, but she can also exhibit a wildness worthy of her name Vilde. All of this is under the watchful eye of common sense and good musical taste. She is able to convince us that all of her decisions, if perhaps surprising at first, are ultimately correct.” Vilde Frang plays a violin built by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume in 1864.
The German native Alexander Lonquich studied piano with Paul Badura-Skoda, Andrzej Jasínski, and Ilonka Deckers-Küszler. He earned international acclaim in 1977 by winning the prestigious Alessandro Casagrande Piano Competition, after which he made solo appearances at the age of just sixteen with a number of leading European orchestras. During his career, he has made appearances at famous concert halls not only in Europe, but also in North America, Asia, and Australia. His wide range of repertoire, spanning from classicism to contemporary music, is dominated by the music of W. A. Mozart, and he is highly regarded for his interpretations of Mozart’s works. He is also active in the field of chamber music, for which his regular musical partners include the violist Veronika Hagen, the cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, the soprano Ruth Ziesak, and the violinist Christian Tetzlaff. A critic for the New York Times characterized him as follows: “The most pleasing aspect of this collaboration was the degree to which Mr. Tetzlaff and Mr. Lonquich played this music as a series of dialogues, with phrases shaped as questions and rejoinders, assertions and rebuttals, and stretches in which the pleasure of agreement created its own energy and pushed the conversation forward.”
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