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The Horszowski Trio Nails Schumann

Fabulous Recital at Bard
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Wed Feb 24th, 2016

From left: Jesse Mills, Rieko Aizawa, and Raman Ramakrishnan.

Not always understanding what is going on when I listen to Robert Schumann, I pre-listened to a couple of recordings of his Op.110 before attending the Bard College recital—to no avail. Yet the performance by The Hoszowksi Trio at the Lazlo Building made everything quite clear: they thoroughly understood Schumann and communicated their understanding to the audience. At the moment Schumann’s Trios enjoy a substantial revival, but that was not always the score. The first performance of a Schumann trio, the Op. 110, in the United States, did not occur until 1958 at Carnegie Hall.

The program offered Schumann’s trios in reverse chronology. With the first movement of Trio no. 3,Opus 110 in G minor, Jesse Mills’ violin ably caught the Romanticism of the rising sixth falling into a descending line. Rieko Aizawa on piano firmly lead the second movement, while in the third Raman Ramakrishnan bled the cello with unearthly bass notes. With the final movement, all not only gathered in unison, but appeared to be providing in witty, satiric manner, just the kind of slapdash thing the public wanted. The Romantic theme ardently explored with sensitivity in the first three movements gave way to public debasement, as if the composer knew just what a drunken crowd would enjoy. It was precisely this amusing satiric slant that was missing in recordings I heard before the concert. Yes, a cynical tour-de-force turn, hard to pull off, but that is precisely what The Horszowksi Trio accomplished with ironic panache.   

Schumann’s Trio no. 2, Opus 80 in E-flat was more firmly centered about the piano, which opened with dramatic rhythmic drive that proposes a double theme. This looser form permits the lyric cello to soar with inward Romantic meditations of longing in the second movement. In the third movement the violin bemusedly offers its take on the theme in conjunction with piano. The famous contrapuntal Scherzo of the third movement, that Clara Schumann so admired, startles with vibrant, carefree extroversion as piano, violin, and cello engage in frolicsome debate. The unexpected fugato of the final movement finds all instruments agreeing on the opening theme with unexpected rescursus.

Trio no. 1 in D minor, Opus 63 in D minor, was unrestrained in its Romanticism. Once again the piano began with theme; the violin led in the second movement; the cello dominated the third movement with such heartfelt pathos that I was no longer sitting but floating in my chair; in the fourth, the piano proudly achieved optimistic resolution with Rieka Aizawa powerfully excelling in the finale.

What was most remarkable about the recital was the seamless, intuitive unity of the group as a whole. This was the first time I felt I really understood Schumann. And to think I nearly turned back home a few blocks from home because the oppressive deluge of rain appeared to offer no visibility beyond a yard. The audience was small, but handclapping was noticeably fervent.