Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio in C. Cello Sonata in e
Andrej Bielow (vn); Christian Poltéra (vc); Oliver Triendl (pn)
CPO 777419 (63:57)
Cpo is not a label to shrink from sticking its corporate neck out. Having dug up a symphony and concerted piano work by the heretofore practically anonymous Dora Peja?evi? (1885–1923) for a recording I reviewed only in the last issue (and selected for my 2010 Want List), the German record company has immediately followed it up with a piano trio and cello sonata by this
virtually unknown Croatian female composer. I won’t repeat her biography here since it was just given in
According to Koraljka Kos’s program note, Peja?evi? wrote two piano trios, the first in D Major in 1905 as a young woman of 20, and a second not much later in 1910. It’s the later C-Major work that’s presented on the current disc. Though the piece is a substantial 35 minutes and laid out in four ample movements, with the Scherzo in second place, it’s the third movement that makes the work a bit unusual. In place of the expected A-B-A (song form) or sonata-form slow movement, what we get is a closed or circular rondo-sonata with two digressive episodes—A-B-A-C-A-B
-A—in which the second episode (C) functions as a development section and the return of the first episode (B
) resolves the key conflict, returning to E Major (the first occurrence of B being in C?-Minor).
Except for the difference in key relationships, this is the exact same formal layout we find in the last movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and countless other rondo-sonata movements. What makes Peja?evi?’s rondo-sonata different is that usually such movements come last and they are typically in a fast tempo. This example is doubly atypical in that not only does it occur in place of a normal slow movement, but the rondo theme itself (ordinarily fast) is marked
, while the digressive episodes are
(B and B
(C). This suggests to me that Peja?evi? was very much her own woman, despite the fact that her musical vocabulary and the stylistic ends to which she applied it are démodé for their time.
Formal aspects aside, Peja?evi?’s trio is, in my opinion, a major addition to the piano trio literature. The first movement, in particular, is absolutely gorgeous, though hard to describe in terms of influences and possible models. A truly memorable melodic thread weaves its way nonstop through the movement in a way that’s a bit reminiscent of Schumann, but there’s also a fluid feeling to the writing that has a French accent about it. Fauré or Reynaldo Hahn, perhaps?
It was Mendelssohn of course who established the paradigm for a certain type of Scherzo—the
—so it’s not unexpected that many composers modeled their scherzo movements after his. Peja?evi? pays her respects to Mendelssohn as well, but in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, for her Scherzo is an aerobics class full of huffing and puffing middle-aged women in spandex sweats exercising to a Jewish hora. In the sudden rhythmic spills and tumbles, you can hear one or another of the women get out of step, lose her footing, and take a pratfall; and in the moaning and groaning harmonic gear shifts, you can hear the kvetching of “oy veh, it hurts.” This is really funny music. But the real surprise is the central trio section. It’s time for a sit-down and a Perrier sprizter. The French accent returns, at first sounding almost like something by Debussy, but rapidly transforming into the most beautiful salon music you can imagine. Once again, Hahn comes to mind, or if we’re sticking with women composers, perhaps Cécile Chaminade or Marie Jaëll, both of whom were born a generation earlier than Peja?evi? but outlived her, in Chaminade’s case by more than 20 years.
The third movement, the form of which has already been discussed, sets the tone with an outpouring of effusive romantic song—that’s the Rondo theme—but the intervening episodes are too brief and don’t offer sufficient contrast to really articulate the structure. It’s all very pretty, but in the end, it sounds more like a single idea being spun out and elaborated upon than it does a movement constructed of distinct divisions. This, I think, is the weakest movement of Peja?evi?’s trio. The finale returns to the flowing melodic ease of the first movement. Here the Schumann influence feels even stronger than it did in the first movement.
If nothing else is said of Peja?evi?, it has to be acknowledged that she was generously blessed with the gift for melody, and her E-Minor Cello Sonata, composed in 1913 and revised in 1915, gives ample evidence of it. Opening with a striking cantabile theme vaguely reminiscent of Brahms, the cello sings continuously throughout the first movement, engaging the piano in a tightly woven uninterrupted contrapuntal conversation.
The Scherzo once again sounds a distant echo of Mendelssohn, but one that is as different from his scherzo movements as it is from Peja?evi?’s Scherzo in the piano trio. Here in the sonata the music takes on a slightly sinister character, its drumming figure calling to mind the hammering of Alberich’s dwarfs forging gold in the cavernous depths of Nibelheim. Peja?evi?’s music isn’t nearly as persistent or menacing as that, but it’s definitely a Scherzo with a warty face and a hump on its back.
The third-movement Adagio shares with the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony the unusual meter of 5/4, but Peja?evi?’s music is no offbeat waltz. Rather, it’s a melancholy Russian-sounding movement that bears a passing resemblance to Tchaikovksy’s Piano Trio in A Minor. The finale, marked
, may be “comfortable” in its breezy, easygoing manner, which largely echoes the character of the first movement, but I doubt that it’s a breeze for the cellist. Much of it sounds quite technically challenging. As with the piano trio, I believe the sonata is an important and very beautiful addition to the cello repertoire.
Two of the three artists here are known quantities, having partnered with each other as well as with others on numerous recordings. They are, of course, cellist Christian Poltéra and pianist Oliver Triendl, and, as always they are in top form and a real pleasure to hear. I wasn’t familiar with violinist Andrej Bielow when I received this release, but I’ve since learned that he is a relatively young Ukrainian who studied and settled in Germany, has soloed with a number of orchestras, and since 2005 has led the Szymanowski Quartet. He brings a great deal of warmth, not to mention technical skill and poise, to Peja?evi?’s piano trio.
Maybe it’s just because I’m such a chamber-music maven, but if I found myself ever so slightly cautious in reviewing Peja?evi?’s symphony in the previous issue, I have no reservations regarding her piano trio and cello sonata on the present disc. This is music one can love and live with forever. The recording receives my highest commendation along with a plea to cpo for as much more Peja?evi? as the company can possibly bring to light.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Cello and Piano by Dora Pejačević
Christian Poltera (Cello),
Andrej Bielow (Violin),
Oliver Triendl (Piano)
Trio for Piano and Strings, Op. 29 by Dora Pejačević
Christian Poltera (Cello),
Andrej Bielow (Violin),
Oliver Triendl (Piano)
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