Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio No. 1. Piano Sonata in A,
Myra Hess (pn); Jelly d’Aranyi (vn); Felix Salmond (vc)
OPUS KURA 2098 (68:10)
French Suite No. 5:
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Sonata in G,
These essential Schubert recordings were made in 1927 and 1928 for American Columbia. They provided my first hearings of the Bb-Trio and the Sonata in A, on an ancient RCA Caedmon LP. I distinctly remember that the sonata played a half step too high, in Bb, with a resultingly faster tempo, a problem that doesn’t exist on this Opus Kura CD from Japan. What I don’t recall, though it was probably there, is the considerable amount of background hiss that accompanies the trio and to a lesser extent the sonata. It’s possible to listen past it—I imagine a healthily hissing fire in a hearth somewhere near the speakers—and to notice that the sound of the three instruments is clear and well balanced.
The sound notwithstanding, these performances are particularly treasurable because Myra Hess avoided the recording studio and didn’t leave that many recordings. Her student Stephen Kovacevich described her as “a virtuoso of sound rather than notes,” by which I think that he meant that Hess had the rare gift, shared by Schnabel and Rachmaninoff, of always transforming notes into sounds that translate into emotions for the listener. Here, with great felicity of touch and timing, she communicates a sense of Schubert’s music’s joy and her joy in playing it. A perfect example of the gracious, smiling quality behind her playing is her performance of her transcription of the ballet music from
. It’s a virtuoso piece, but what comes across is fun she seems to be having with it, not the technical sleight of hand involved.
Schubert’s first trio showcases the strings. The piano part is equally important, but more often than not, it’s an accompaniment that provides pacing and harmony for the more obviously soloistic string parts. Hess’s playing is supple and unmannered, but not so self-effacing as to suggest that the piano is anything but essential, with a personality of its own at all times. The playing of her colleagues, the violinist Jelly d’Aranyi (a sonata partner of Bartók’s) and the British cello virtuoso Felix Salmond, is splendid and full of character, enlivened by unexpected but always tasteful slides, and faster vibrato that we hear today. The group’s ensemble is perfect. How unfortunate it is that this was their only recording as a trio.
Their interpretation is comparatively straightforward, with less extreme rubato than the other great historical performance of D 898, recorded in 1928, by Casals, Cortot, and Thibaud. Both trios understand that even though the work’s songlike slow movement is one of the most heartrendingly beautiful statements in all music, it is marked
andante con moto
and needs to flow. The music’s lilt and long phrases suffer under the weight of too reverent a slow tempo, a trap that the usually wary Beaux Arts Trio falls into. Hess and her colleagues, by taking fast tempos in the three faster movements, and omitting the repeats in third—something that no serious piano trio would dare do today, but that I find refreshing—manage to make the piece feel not a bit too long.
In Hess’s spontaneous-sounding interpretation of the Piano Sonata in A, the opening movement is relaxed and gentle. Her strong voicing of the right-hand melody makes the second rather intense, and she brings out the last movement’s impulsive character with great speed and shaping in the 16th notes. Among other delightful encores, the disc offers her signature
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
transcription in two versions, both glorious, though considerably slower in 1940 than in 1928.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title