Introducing the Wajnberg Trio

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WEINBERG: Piano Trio, Op. 24. TANSMAN: Trio for Piano, Violin & Cello. A. TCHAIKOVSKY: Trio Notturno / Wajnberg Trio / Accord ACD 247-2

The Wajnberg Trio, which formed in 2016, debuted at the Tansman Festival in Łódz that year and have been performing together ever since. This is their debut CD.

One will note the two different spellings of the composer’s last name: Wajnberg, the way it is normally spelled in Poland, and Weinberg, the way it is normally spelled in the West. In Russia, it is often spelled Vainberg, but it’s the same composer. A similar situation confronts the name of the last composer presented in this recital; in Poland, André Tchaikovsky’s last name is usually spelled Czajkowski.

Now that we’ve gotten spell check and semantics out of the way, let’s review the music!

Weinberg’s Piano Trio is typical of this composer’s work in terms of emotional intensity and individual use of harmony—modern, a bit spiky, but not entirely forbidding. Having never heard this specific work before, I can’t say how this performance compares to any others, but like most current chamber music groups, they attack it with fire and a very bright string tone. Indeed, the emotional intensity of the opening will floor you; it is as intense as anything Shostakovich ever wrote, although by 2:44 the dramatic tide ebbs and we receive a lovely, graceful, soft violin solo theme, accompanied by soft piano chords. Eventually a medium-tempo piano motif enters, against which the violin and cello play pizzicato figures—and thus it ends, with a whimper instead of a bang. The second-movement “Toccata” is all energy with a hint of angst behind the ostensibly genial theme, which becomes ever more grotesque and edgy as it progresses to the end. The slow third movement also begins in edgy fashion with a strong piano solo, but then quiets down while the cello plays a long-lined, dolorous theme against which the violin sprinkles pizzicato raindrops. But of course the intensity increases, the tempo doubles, and by 5:15 the tension is almost unbearable. Then it quiets down again for the finish.

In the last movement, marked “Allegro moderato,” we again begin quietly with the piano playing just in the right hand, but the edgy violin intrudes on the mood and ups the level of drama. For some time we hear just these two instruments, violin and piano, having an interesting dialogue before the cello enters playing its own very edgy melodic line. The piano comes in behind it, then the violin as the piano drops out, then all three converge in a contrapuntal three-way quasi- fugue. The rhythmic liveliness of this movement is dance-like, but almost a dance of death, played in the minor and evoking feelings of dread rather than joy. What I found interesting in this relatively early work from 1945 is how much stronger the emotions were, possibly because he was then much closer to the unspeakable tragedy of having his family wiped out by the Nazis. In later years, Weinberg’s music would have moments of intensity but also many moments of quiet resignation and sadness. And this is what we get towards the end of the trio: a slow, sad theme played by the solo piano, all angst and energy spent, while the violin enters playing very high held notes, ending on a very high E.

By comparison with Weinberg, Tansman’s Trio is all sunshine and light. He was, by and large, a relatively joyful composer, and he maintains this image in this work despite his use of some modern harmonies. After a slow introduction, we get an energetic, bitonal but still relatively upbeat theme which is worked on by the trio as a whole. No splitting up of the trio sound for Tansman; he obviously liked hearing all three instruments play as a unit. The fast second movement features the violin and cello playing rapid pizzicato figures while the piano sprinkles its own notes into the mix, mostly rapid flurries and occasional staccato chords. After a pause, the violin scurries above the piano while the cello plays its own pizzicato. The third-movement “Arioso” is all lyricism, and even when the music becomes louder and bit more emotional it is neither angst-filled nor edgy. The finale is more bitonal than the rest of the work, with numerous descending chromatic passages, which does add a bit of edge to the score but not too much as the basic feeling is in the major. At 2:22 he introduces a surprisingly jazzy figure for the piano that comes and goes relatively quickly.

André Tchaikovsky’s Trio Notturno is also surprisingly edgy, particularly for a work that is supposed to be nocturnal, atonal and with several upward portamento slides for the violin. The slow introduction to the first movement ends abruptly, after which choppy piano chords introduce the cello playing its own quirky melodic line, over which the violin also enters. The tempo then slows down once again as the piano plays a strong but choppy theme against long-held notes by the strings. The second and last movement, “Andante tranquillo,” opens with soft but ominous crushed chords over which the violin plays a lyrical but somewhat uncomfortable-sounding theme. The cello later enters playing its own theme against the violin while the piano ruminates beneath them both. More portamento slides by the violin bring on an edgy, restless theme in double time by the cello, into which the other two instruments add their own restless commentary. Eventually this activity stops, the tempo slows down again, and the piano plays high, chime-like chords while the cello and violin play around it. If this is a “nocturne,” Tchaikovsky must have had some exceptionally restless nights. Yet the musical activity slows down even more as it becomes stranger and more restless.

This is an excellent recital, well-planned and fascinating. Would that more modern-day classical instrumentalists and chamber groups played such interesting and emotionally charged programs!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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