Antonín Dvořák: Piano Trios, Opp. 21 and 26; Josef Suk: Elegy in D flat major, Op. 23

The Florestan Trio: Anthony Marwood, Richard Lester & Susan Tomes (Hyperion CDA67572)

15 February 2008 5 stars

Florestan Trio: DvorakNearly twelve years have passed since the Florestan Trio released their debut disc on Hyperion, with performances of Dvořák's famous Dumky Trio in E minor, Op. 90 and the magnificent F minor Piano Trio, Op. 65 (CDA66895). This recording proved to be the launching pad for a highly-acclaimed discographical voyage covering the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms, amongst others. More than a decade later, after hearing this ensemble give a splendid performance of Dvořák's first existing example in the genre (Op. 21) at the Wigmore Hall, I wondered whether a return to the evergreen Bohemian landscape – in which they sounded so at ease – was in the offing. This most recent recording from the Florestan Trio is the manifestation of that supposition, as well as a homecoming of sorts for the musicians involved.

1875 is considered something of a breakthrough year for Dvořák, during which he composed his Fifth Symphony, the String Serenade, the Moravian Duets and the D major Piano Quartet. It is from amidst this bounteous spell of creativity that the masterful Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 21 emerged. This is a work brimming with trademarks of the composer's genius, ranging from impassioned yearning in the Adagio molto e mesto to unbridled exuberance in the finale.

The Florestan Trio once again prove to be ideal exponents of these characteristics. Every nut and bolt of the musical construction is treated with the utmost care, every cadential juncture managed with enchanting subtlety. Not once does this opulence of expression threaten to relinquish its position to the maudlin forces of sentimentality. Many virtues are unveiled during the course of the Florestan's account of Op. 21. The tranquil, delicately-phrased C-flat major episode in the opening Allegro molto, the fervent Sturm und Drang between Anthony Marwood's violin and Richard Lester's cello as the second movement climaxes, and the quasi-rhetorical lyricism of the Allegretto scherzando are but a few of these. All is triumphantly brought together in the final movement, with its magical Schubertian recollection of the second movement's haunting principal theme and a riotous, rambunctious dash to the finish.

The G minor Piano Trio, Op. 26 (1876) is perhaps less accessible than its predecessor, partially due to the opening movement's near-monothematic structure. The Florestans match this tautness of form with an intensity of performance, providing an unaffected yet finely nuanced sense of direction throughout. The augmentation of the principal theme at the beginning of the recapitulation, in particular, is deftly executed. Exquisitely-shaded harmonic and melodic unpredictability characterises the Largo, whilst the outer portions of the ensuing Scherzo are infectiously restless, driven by the effervescent playing of pianist Susan Tomes. This is majestically contrasted with a Trio section that aims to reconcile carefree naïveté with cavernous probing. The closing Allegro non tanto is also a balancing act of sorts, viewing 'the dance' at its most mysterious and its most magnificent. As one might expect, the Florestans capture the essence of both poles with aplomb.

A highly appealing encore appears between the two trios in the form of Josef Suk's Elegy, Op. 23 (1902). Full of sumptuous, Straussian twists and turns (such as the cello's sustained E flat, seemingly destined to resolve on a D, instead gently drawn up a semitone by a lusciously unexpected chord progression) the work allows the Florestan Trio to showcase their delicate poeticism once more. Though the recorded sound on this disc does, at times, seem a tad wispy, it does little to detract from these superb performances. Highly recommended.

By William Norris