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Chamber Music Review Print

Díaz Trio Concentrates on Magyar Vocabulary

July 14, 2008 - Brevatd, NC:

For a few weeks each summer, we are privileged to have three exceptional chamber musicians in our midst at the Brevard Music Festival. These are Andrés Cárdenes, Roberto Díaz and Andrés Díaz, together comprising the Díaz Trio. Violinist Cárdenes (now at Carnegie Mellon University), violist Roberto Díaz (now President of the Curtis Institute) and cellist Andrés Díaz (now at Southern Methodist University) have appeared in chamber recitals as a string trio and with other musicians in other ensemble configurations each summer since 2005. Many members of the audience eagerly anticipate their concerts.

The program opened with Andrés Díaz performing Johann Sebastian Bach's Suite No. 5 for Solo Cello. Winner of the 1986 Naumberg International Cello Competition, Andrés Díaz has all the technique that one could ever ask for and an ability to serve up a palette of emotional coloration. The Prelude began with a growl and a declamatory enunciation. The succeeding five dance movements were replete with well-woven voices. At one point, a contrasting middle section was dealt feather-like caresses.

All the small details were there. We were left with possible issues only about Díaz's larger conception of the work. Varying interpretations of Bach often all work in their own way. Díaz presented an integrated concept, stressing the unity between movements and downplaying the contrasting dance rhythms. By stressing the similarity and avoiding a full stop at the end of the Allemande, Díaz managed to lure me about four measures into the Courante before I realized that the rhythm had changed. His interpretation might legitimately be argued over as a matter of personal taste. For my part, once I became accustomed to it, I liked it. We were made to ponder the consistency that Bach put into his suites.

Violinist David Salness then joined Cárdenes and Roberto Díaz for the Serenade for Two Violins and Viola (Op. 12) of Zoltán Kodály. This remarkable work in three movements underscores the unique musical culture of Hungary. Just as the Hungarian language requires 40 letters (44 if you want to include foreign words in their original spelling), so it seems the indigenous musical language of Hungary requires more elements than a conventional western European lexicon. With their in-depth studies of the ethnomusicology of their country, Bartók and Kodály uncovered rhythmic patterns and modalities of their people, and populated their compositions with their findings. This serenade is a prime example. Its second movement is a remarkable Lento with a clear dialog between violin and viola, including an emotional buildup to the movement’s climax. Elements of this movement carry over to the joyous third movement, with its pronounced dance flavor and its invocation of a bagpipe drone.  

Cárdenes and the Díaz brothers concluded the concert with the Serenade for String Trio (Op. 10) of Ernst von Dohnányi. Again, my first thought was "Magyar." However, while Dohnányi had absorbed elements of his native culture, his compositional style in 1904 was dominated by the Viennese school. Perhaps he signaled this when he abandoned his given name of Ernö and became Ernst. We hear drones, we hear Magyar violins and passionate outbursts, but structurally we hear Haydn and Brahms as major influences. While an under-represented composer, Dohnányi's compositions resemble Brahms' Hungarian rhapsodies more than the later breakthroughs of Bartók and Kodály.

One of the few glitches of the evening occurred in the Dohnányi performance, when Andrés Díaz missed a page turn (he turned over two pages) and played the final two pages from memory. The harmonic underpinning was all there, but apparently not every little riff and embellishment. After receiving a standing ovation, the trio announced that as an encore, they would play the final movement of the Dohnányi again, "this time with the music." They did.