By Nestor CASTIGLIONE
There is a wide streak of melancholy in the artistic works of the Czech nation, which comes as no surprise given how its citizens were beaten and subjugated by their more powerful neighbors across the centuries. It was the Habsburg Empire that first overran its borders, followed much later by Nazi Germany, and then finally the Soviet Union, its armies having initially arrived on the banks of the Vltava River as liberators – only to set bring about cultural and political repression that wouldn’t give way until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
Despite the nation’s tragic history, Czech art is unique in the Slavic world in that it exhibits little of the brooding, dread and morbidity more typical of its cultural confreres. Instead, one can find in the short stories of Kafka and Čapek, the novels of Hrabal and the films of Menzel that despair is often pricked by humor – however acidulous it may be at times – and sometimes the darkness even gives way to light.
In the piano trios by Dvořák and Smetana – the “Piano Trio no. 4, Op. 90” (“Dumky) and “Piano Trio, Op. 15” respectively – that framed Le Salon de Musiques’ program on Sunday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one detected the same impulse: the portentous billowing thunderheads that set stormy moods in each of their introductions quickly yielded to the dancing, even cheeky Bohemian spirit. Polka-like rhythms and rustic waltzes jostled with dirges and elegies.
Yet there was a studied defiance in this buoyancy. Torment us, the music seems to intimate to the oppressors of the Czech people, but you’ll never break our will to live.
Pianist Adam Neiman, violinist Erik Arvinder and cellist Robert Demaine understood these qualities, navigating the deceptively tense waves undulating throughout this music with aplomb. Throughout they balanced poignancy with vitality – with Neiman’s beautifully measured tone drawing especial attention.
In between the two major works was a pair of small works by Dvořák and his son-in-law Josef Suk, whose own life would be marked by the deaths in quick succession of his mentor and then wife during the early part of the 20th century. Their “Waldesruhe” and “Elegy” are small but dazzling gems of melodic invention and mood painting, which Neiman, Arvinder and Demaine rendered all the more dazzling.
For more information regarding the schedule of upcoming performances of Le Salon de Musiques, visit www.lesalondemusiques.com.