Tuesday, January 22, 2002

[1/22/12] Which mainstay of the chamber music literature was first heard in 1855 in, of all places, NYC? (continued)


As promised, here's the Scherzo of Op. 8 played by the Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio. Again, I suggest keeping the volume down.

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8:
i. Allegro con brio
ii. Scherzo: Allegro molto; Meno allegro
iii. Adagio
iv. Allegro

Joseph Silverstein, violin; Jules Eskin, cello; Richard Goode, piano. RCA, recorded c1968
I'm going to assume that Richard Goode (born 1943) needs no introduction. If he does, well, here's a basic bio. You can also visit his Facebook page.

Joseph Silverstein (born 1932) joined the BSO in 1955-56 -- sitting in the last chair of the second violins! -- and rose through the violin ranks until he replaced retiring concertmaster Richard Burgin in the 1962-63 season, and was active in the founding of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in 1964. He became increasingly active as a conductor, and in 1971 became assistant conductor of the BSO, and after leaving Boston, following the 1983-84 season, became conductor and then full-fledged music director of the Utah Symphony, remaining until 1998. His successor as BSO concertmaster, Malcolm Lowe, is still on the job, having long since surpassed Silverstein's 21 years as concertmaster.

Jules Eskin (born 1931) became principal cellist of the BSO in 1964, after his predecessor, Samuel Mayes, and Mayes's wife, Winifred, also a BSO cellist, were lured by Eugene Ormandy to became principal and co-principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Eskin came to Boston after three years as principal cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, and he hasn't left. He was a founding member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, as was violist Burton Fine, whom we heard Friday night in the Trout Quintet.


Here's most of what James Lyons had to say about the two versions of Brahms's Op. 8 in his note for the Boston Symphony Chamber Players set that includes the performance we just heard.
It must be understood that the Op. 8 introduced in New York was not quite the Op. 8 we know. Brahms was a burgeoning composer of 21 when he completed the original. Some 36 years later, as a renowned master in his late middle age, he went back to the score and overhauled it. The end product is doubtless the happiest mingling of youthful exuberance and mature wisdom in the chamber music literature.

With typical understatement, Brahms wrote to a friend about the reworked Op. 8 that he "did not provide it with a wig, but just combed and arranged its hair a little." To labor the analogy, a comparison of the two versions would indicate rather that the music had been given a shave, a shampoo and whatever else an experienced barber could effect in the interests of transformation. But in fact the alterations were considerably more than skin-deep.

Several of the secondary subjects were supplanted by real subsidiary motives, necessitating new development and recapitulation sections. Onl the Scherzo second movement was spared, but even there the coda was modified. The original sequence of keys is preserved, but somehow the colors are more autumnal than before; where there had been an impetuous, gypsy-like sadness there is now a kind of commanding somberness. . . . [Beethoven's] presence is felt, if not heard. A certain imperious quality comes through. But the confident contours cannot disguise a deeply felt melancholy.


With regard to the performances, it may be of interest to note, concerning the two versions of Op. 8, that already in 1854 the piece was conceived on a very large scale. Jim Lyons may have been right about the revision tipping it in the direction of melancholy, but that's not the same thing as the heaving, sweat-dripping ponderousness so often imposed on Brahms by performers who think that's called for. I think all of our performers dodge that trap. The performance that is in some ways most intriguing is the Borodin Trio's Scherzo, which in common with most of the choices in that splendid ensembles recordings of the Brahms piano trios and quartets is conceived on a monumental scale and maintains quite a high intensity level -- but note how substantially they fill out that framework; note the payoff they get in the gorgeous central trio section (at 2:09). I think the more characteristically fleeter and lighter-textured recording by the remarkable Chung siblings provides an excellent contrast.

It seemed an obvious idea to set the two Rubinstein performances together. The much shorter timing of the classic 1941 recording is attributable, first, to the omission of the repeat; second, to clearly different interpretive priorities; and possibly third to a strong wish to fit the movement on two 78-rpm sides. [UPDATE: I meant that the 1941 timing is "much shorter" than most more recent performances. In fact, the 1972 recording doesn't take the repeat either.] Bear in mind that the earlier recording featured an ensemble that, starry as it was, was much younger. The great Feuermann (1902-1942) was two months away from his 39th birthday (which tragically would be his last), Heifetz (1901-1987) was 40, and Rubinstein (1887-1982) was the old man of the group at 54, the approximate age of the youngest participant in the 1972 recording, Szeryng (1918-1988, his birthday was later that month). Fournier (1906-1986) was 66, and Rubinstein 85.

I also thought it would be interesting to put the two Josef Suk recordings together, and the Adagio seemed the movement in which to do it. Finally, for the finale we have two sets of really outstanding musicians, and I love the to-the-point urgency of the Brandis-Borwitzky-Vásáry performance. The Trio di Trieste makes what I consider an exceedingly risky choice in going with the darkly dreamlike quality of the music -- risky in that it can so easily lead to just the kind of bloating and ponderousness I was talking about -- but as with the Borodin Trio's wonderfully grand-scaled Scherzo, the Trieste finale seems to me quite beautifully sustained.

The brief Wikipedia article on the piece has some brief descriptions of the movements which may be helpful.

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8

i. Allegro con brio

Wikipedia: "This movement is a sonata form movement in B major, with a broad theme that begins in the cello and piano and builds in intensity. It is counterpoised by a more delicate anacrustic second theme in G sharp minor. This theme appeared only in the second version of the trio, replacing a more complex group of themes and a fugal section in the first version."
Original version (1854)

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Jascha Heifetz, violin; Emanuel Feuermann, cello; Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded in Hollywood, Sept. 11-12. 1941

Henryk Szeryng, violin; Pierre Fournier, cello; Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded in Geneva, Sept. 4-10, 1972

ii. Scherzo: Allegro molto; Meno allegro

Wikipedia: "The B minor scherzo combines delicate filigree passages with fortissimo outbursts. The exuberant mood of the first movement returns in the trio section. A tierce de picardie sets the scene for the Adagio. The only alterations Brahms applied to this movement in his revision of the work were a doubling of the climactic trio melody in the cello, and a reworking of the coda."
Original version (1854)

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Borodin Trio: Rostislav Dubinsky, violin; Yuli Turovsky, cello; Luba Edlina, piano. Chandos, recorded in London, June 7-8, 1982?

Kyung Wha Chung, violin; Myung Wha Chung, cello; Myung Whun Chung, piano. Decca, recorded in Vienna, Apr. 30-May 3, 1987

iii. Adagio

Wikipedia: "This movement, returning to B major, opens with a spacious chordal theme in the piano, counterpoised by a middle section in which the cello plays a poignant G sharp minor melody making use of chromaticism. In the first version, a different second theme was used, and an Allegro section was included near the end of the movement."
Original version (1854): Adagio non troppo

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Suk Trio: Josef Suk, violin; Josef Chuchro, cello; Jan Panenka, piano. Supraphon, recorded in Prague, Sept. 7-11, 1976

Josef Suk, violin; Janos Starker, cello; Julius Katchen, piano. Decca, recorded at the Maltings, Snape (England), July 1968

iv. Allegro

Wikipedia: "Back in B minor, the first theme of this movement is highly chromatic and slightly ambiguous tonally, with a very agitated dotted rhythm. This is perhaps the movement Brahms altered the most between the two versions, with the cello's original smooth second theme in F sharp major being replaced by a more vigorous arpeggiated piano theme in D major. After a B major episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music returns to minor and ends very turbulently."
Original version (1854): Allegro molto agitato

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Trio di Trieste: Renato Zanettovich, violin; Libero Lana, cello; Dario de Rosa, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, May 24-25, 1967

Thomas Brandis, violin; Ottomar Borwitzky, cello; Tamás Vásáry, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, September 1981


. . . which had come to make less and less sense, though it started as what seemed like a reasonable enough idea. In order to have a second complete Brahms B major for this post, I was going to do a digital dub of the c1952 Westminster recording by pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, Jean Fournier, and cellist Antonio Janigro, from my original "WL" series pressing (for reasons I don't really understand, those old Westminster LPs have acquired quite a cachet), which would also give me a chance to listen to it, since I really don't have any recollection of it.

So I dubbed the first side of the LP, with the first two movements, and then started declicking. My LP looks lovely, but jeez, was there stuff to try to get rid of on it. I spent hours and hours on it (four? five? six?) -- enough to know that there was no way I was going to continue on with the third and fourth movements. It was the sort of insane task you only continue because of the amount of time you've already got invested in it, and then the more time you put into it, the more impossible it becomes to stop. Working backwards, I had finished the second movement and was literally all the way back to the first 15 seconds of the first movement when I had to deal with something else, and the something else wound up forcing me to restart my computer -- and poof, there went the declicked file!

After a while I remembered that I had made an MP3 file of the second movement, so here it is. It's really not a bad performance. I would have liked to listen to the more or less declicked first movement. I gather, by the way, that violinist Jean Fournier was the younger brother of cellist Pierre, but the bios I've seen of the latter make no mention of a brother, and the "bio" of Jean on on the Westminster LP is biographically limited to the facts that he was born in Paris and won First Prize at the Paris Conservatory.

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8:
ii. Scherzo: Allegro molto; Meno allegro

Jean Fournier, violin; Antonio Janigro, cello; Paul Badura-Skoda, piano. Westminster, recorded c1952


SCHUBERT: Quintet for Piano and Strings in A, D. 667 (Trout):
i. Allegro vivace
ii. Andante
iii. Scherzo: Presto
iv. Theme and Variations: Andantino; Allegretto
v. Finale: Allegro giusto

Boston Symphony Chamber Players: Richard Goode, piano (guest artist); Joseph Silverstein, violin; Burton Fine, viola; Jules Eskin, cello; Henry Portnoi, double bass. RCA, recorded c1968 [audio link]


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At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...and poof, there went the declicked file!

Been there, done that! But at least, you had some sort of digital de-clicking. When I was involved in the record biz(Universal Recording, Chicago, 1960)we de-clicked with a editing block, razor blade and scotch tape! Even managed to replace a split second of musical error, gleaned from a similar passage elsewhere on the performance.

I left recording and later, much later, up until now, I switched to photography. I would half expect some sort of batch de-clicking to be possible, or at least a similar process to Adobe Photoshop Healing brush, which decreases dust correction missed by the Noise program by at least s factor of 10 over the Clone, which I suspect is what the digital audio does.

You are to be commended for the Effort.

I had a pretty good collection of Westminster recordings as a teen. I thought some were quite good, others? well, why bother!

At 5:48 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks for the memories, Anon. Yes, it astonishes me that a technical dunderhead like me can perform declicking! When I'm doing it, as semi-successfully as I'm able, I really and truly do imagine what it must have been like in pre-digital times.



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