Best of Together Again: Episode 4

Wednesday, September 15, 2021
WCLV 104.9 FM – Cleveland Ovations


ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY | Clarinet Trio, Op. 3
Performed June 12, 2021

Franklin Cohen, clarinet
Zlatomir Fung, cello
Roman Rabinovich, piano

BEDŘICH SMETANA | Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15
Performed June 24, 2021

Yura Lee, violin
Julie Albers, cello
Roman Rabinovich, piano

AMY BEACH | Piano Quintet, Op. 67
Performed June 16, 2021

Alexi Kenney, violin
Diana Cohen, violin
Dimitri Murrath, viola
Oliver Herbert, cello
Shai Wosner, piano

Thoughts About the Music

Alexander Zemlinsky – Clarinet Trio, Op. 3

Born in Vienna in 1871, the musical talent of Alexander Zemlinsky was recognized from a very young age. At thirteen, Zemlinsky was studying composition and piano at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Konservatorium, where he became well-known as an insightful interpreter of Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and Schoenberg. Despite his studies of contemporary, atonal composers like Webern and Schoenberg, Zemlinsky was never won over by their styles, believing that every great artist must pay their respects to “the boundaries of beauty”. Masterfully crafted, his compositions reflect the dramatic nature of the romantic era with perfection. His Opus 3, a clarinet trio, was composed just before Zemlinsky became fully recognized as a great composer of his era. The opening is broad and poignant, tinged with nostalgia, before being interrupted by a stately, heroic main theme in the piano which is built upon and varied by each instrument. While the presence of Brahms’s swaying, warm harmonies are evident throughout the work, Zemlinsky claims them as his own through intense, theatrical modulations and spritely runs. The piano leads into the second movement, with a shining yet somber melody that is then adopted by the clarinet in a lyrical, broad dance. The middle section moves in a quick, unrestrained manner that comes to a screeching halt with the clarinet and cello playing a crushing unison line. The movement continues with a melodramatic aura that colors it to the very end. The finale is an outburst of passion and liveliness. Rife with flourishing lines in the clarinet and piano, the two seem to interact with one another with the cello offering providing the foundation. The finale builds in intensity and drive as agility and exotic flair give way to amourous charm. ©2021 Nicole Martin

Bedřich Smetana – Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15

Smetana only wrote one piano trio. While he did not write anything to describe the nature of the work, he did dedicate it to his oldest daughter, Bedřiška, who had recently died of Scarlet Fever at the age of four. Smetana had been working as a music teacher for children since he was 20 years old, in which he found great joy. Therefore, when his daughter began to show signs of incredible musical talent, the bond between her and her father grew to be unbreakable. After her death, Smetana was beyond devastated. Even though Smetana left no program notes regarding his piano trio, the grief-stricken lament in which the piece is shrouded is unmistakable. However, even despite it’s dark content, the piece shines as a beautifully passionate expression of the purity of love. The first movement begins with agonising, broad gestures that slowly begin to accelerate, boiling to an unhinged intensity. Peeking its way out from this texture comes sweeter, more lyrical lines that Smetana noted was one of his daughter’s favorite melodies. These two forces, death and daughter, weave amongst one another until the piano builds up a panic with intense octaves and a booming cello line. The middle movement consists of a scherzo with two trios that show a much less manic personality than the first movement, yet still containing a feeling of unsettledness. The first trio’s music is ethereal yet worried with a dance-like melody whispering on. The second trio is a march that ranges widely in its styles, going from dazzling and wistful to stately and reflective, and finally emerges into a shining light that is both majestic and devastating. The last movement is quite lively and complex, featuring brilliant rhythmic energy in the piano coupled with plucky string lines that are interrupted from time to time with a gentler melody, reminiscent of Bedřiška. This animated dynamic does not last long, however, as the cello leads the ensemble into a mournful procession and the piano embellishes the texture with the tolling of funeral bells. Smetana could have easily ended the music here, but instead writes one final determination to overcome his grief, with a beautifully passionate, rather optimistic section that is difficult to interpret. Perhaps the goal was purely to end the piece in this flourishing way for compositional reasons, however there is a sense that Smetana was grabbing hold of all that death could not take from him.

Amy Beach – Piano Quintet, Op. 67

A self-taught prodigy, Amy Beach of New Hampshire made her concert debut in 1883, when she was just 16 years old. Her husband, 24 years her senior, insisted she only perform one concert per year in order to keep their social standing. It was only after his death in 1910 that she began to tour around Europe and America. She was the first American woman ever to compose a symphony, and is considered one of America’s most influential composers, with a style romantically rooted yet tonally advanced. Her piano quintet, composed in 1908, begins with a deeply ominous piano section. The movement continues with sorrowful violin lines that carry the music through mysterious, dark territory. Finally, the second movement begins with a romantic violin melody, opening the skies with the bright, lush nature of the movement. While it remains soft and delicate throughout, it burns with emotional intensity. The finale explodes onto the scene with agile runs and chromatic piano lines giving way to an almost Slavic sounding theme. A second lyrical theme is introduced, surrounded by whirling riffs from every instrument. Eventually, the music drops out and the violin and piano play a poignant melody that is embellished by the surrounding instruments, growing feverishly as the piece grows to multiple dramatic climaxes shrouded in a mystical allure. ©2021 Nicole Martin

All musical selections are subject to change without notice.