Tuesday 23 July 2013

The Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch bring a special magic to the music of Ravel, Debussy and Fauré on a new release from Nimbus

Nimbus Records www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html has just released a recording of Piano Trios by Ravel and Fauré together with the Violin Sonata and Cello Sonata by Debussy, dating between 1914 and 1924, performed by the Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch.

NI 5905
In different ways these were difficult or unsettling times for each of these composers. Ravel was writing his Trio just before the outbreak of the First World War. Writing from St-Jean-de Luz to Mme Kahn-Casella, wife of the Italian composer, Alfredo Casella he said, ‘I am working on the trio in spite of the cold, the tempest, the storm, the rain and the hail.’ By the end of June he was working in a heat of 35 degrees. Although this was a happy time for Ravel, the outbreak of war on 3rd August 1914 came as a great shock to him. It was Alfredo Casella who was the pianist in the first performance of the Piano Trio, in Paris, on 28th January 1915. By March 1915, Ravel had enlisted in the 13th Artillery Regiment.

By the time Debussy www.debussy.fr  wrote his Cello Sonata, his health was failing. He had been operated on to remove a cyst from his bowel in early 1913, war had broken out in 1914 and his mother died in March 1915. In summer 1915, Debussy rented a house in Pourville, on the Normandy coast, with his second wife Emma Bardac. That summer brought forth a prolific period of composition with En blanc et noir for two pianos, the Sonatas for Cello and Piano (1915) and for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915) and the Douze études pour piano. The sonatas were intended to be part of a set of six with the third a Violin Sonata (1916/17), the fourth for oboe, horn and harpsichord, the fifth for trumpet, clarinet, bassoon and piano and a six that would combine ‘the sonorities I’ve employed in the others. Only the first three were to be completed, Debussy dying in 1918 of the bowel condition he had been operated on for in 1913.

By 1922 old age and money worries had begun to take their toll on Fauré. Despite being made Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur in 1923, his flagging energy, increasing frailty and hearing difficulties began to weigh on him. In July 1922, Faure spent a month near the Luz and Cauterets valleys. He asked for some sketches he had left in Paris to be sent on. These were to become the central section of the slow movement. However, the composer caught bronchial pneumonia thus delaying any work on the Piano Trio. He continued to work on the Trio while staying with friends at Annecy and completed the trio in Paris during the winter of 1922/23. Originally written for clarinet, cello and piano it was published for violin, cello and piano, a form in which it is almost always performed. It was pneumonia that caused Fauré’s death in 1924.

Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch was founded in 2009 and comprises of three of the finest instrumentalists of our time. Hagai Shaham www.hagaishaham.com studied with Professor Ilona Feher, Elisha Kagan, Emanuel Borok, Arnold Steinhardt and the Guarneri Quartet. In September 1990, Hagai Shaham and his duo partner, Arnon Erez, won the first prize at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich in the Violin-Piano duo category. As a soloist he has performed with many of the world's major orchestras and is a professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University.

Born in 1965, Arnon Erez is one of Israel’s leading pianists, primarily known as an outstanding chamber musician. He collaborates with a wide number of musicians and performs with top artists worldwide. His international career began in 1990, after winning, together with his duo partner Hagai Shaham, the ARD International Music Competition in Munich. Arnon Erez studied the piano with Mrs Hana Shalgi, Professor Michael Boguslavski and Professor Arie Vardi.  He has won several competitions, including first prize in the François Shapira competition, Israel’s most prestigious national competition and has performed in numerous major concert halls and currently teaches at The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at the Tel Aviv University.

Raphael Wallfisch www.raphaelwallfisch.com was born in London into a family of distinguished musicians, his mother the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and his father the pianist Peter Wallfisch. Raphael Wallfisch was guided by a succession of fine teachers including Amaryllis Fleming, Amadeo Baldovino, Derek Simpson and Gregor Piatigorsky. At the age of twenty-four he won the Gaspar Cassadó International Cello Competition in Florence. Since then he has enjoyed a world-wide career playing with the world’s greatest orchestras. He is professor of cello at the Zürich Winterthur Konservatorium, Switzerland and at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

The first movement Modéré of Ravel’s Piano Trio has a beautifully wistful opening that rises to a passionate climax. There are some lovely delicate, sensitive passages. These players are right inside Ravel’s idiom, drawing so much of his exquisite nostalgia from the music. In the faster sections there is some scintillating playing. The spiky opening to the second movement Pantoum: Assez vif yields to a rolling melody in what is effectively the scherzo, with some fine playing and spot on ensemble. As the music returns to the opening motif there is some lovely string playing. The Passacaille: Très large highlights the individual merits of these fine artists, in this beautifully paced movement, where they slowly build the drama and emotion in an arch like form. The rhythmically changing Finale: Animé receives a terrific performance, full of drama and power with terrific playing in the striking coda.

There is simply lovely playing from Wallfisch and Erez in Debussy’s ambivalent Cello Sonata, by turns confident and melancholy, with so many lovely details in the strange music of the Prologue: Lent. Piano with pizzicato cello open Sérénade: Modérément animé before this music speeds, then slows with more pizzicato phrases and staccato piano in this oddly eerie music. The Finale: Animé at first seems to want to rush ahead, but becomes hesitant. However it soon picks up with some great playing from these two performers. As the mood alternates between slow and thoughtful and rapid, even frantic, Wallfisch and Erez’s playing is spot on.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata of 1917 opens with a more settled feel in the Allegro vivo, but this doesn’t last, becoming more unsettled with sudden forward movement, before pulling back. Shahan and Erez prove an equally fine duo, feeling each other’s every turn and nuance. The skittish Intermède: Fantasque et léger receives a terrific performance with these artists, clearly enjoying themselves, in playing of such clarity and wit. In the Finale: Très animé  Erez displays some beautifully rippling, fluid playing in the tentative opening, before the music picks up in a lively, somewhat virtuosic finale showing Shaham’s brilliant violinistic skills. There are quiet sections where these two draw so much from the music.

Shaham, Wallfsich and Erez immediately bring out the ambivalent feel of the Allegro, ma non troppo Fauré’s late masterpiece the Piano Trio, Op.120. Despite the marking of this movement, there are moments of poignancy that these players point up so well, swaying from one mood to another. There is a gentle, resigned Andantino that develops into a lovely duet for violin and cello with lovely playing from Shaham and Wallfisch. There are superbly built climaxes leading to a gentle coda. In the final Allegro vivo, the violin and cello give the opening outbursts with the piano scurrying around them to disperse any melancholy or gloom in this lively, joyful allegro, so unlike the opening allegro.

These fine players bring a special magic to this music. They are beautifully recorded with the balance of these artists finely done.  A lot of fine chamber music recordings come my way but I was really taken by this one which shouldn’t be missed.

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