David, it is about time ;-) Better late than never I suppose? I am glad you found something from the world of chamber music that obviously made you sit up and listen. It is a fascinating world and the Dumky Trio is probably one of the more unusual yet extremely accessible works.
Unfortunately, I have no quick and easy answer for you on this. If there was ever a piece of music where interpretation can vary so widely then this is it. It is hard to recommend just one interpretation because the possibilities are endless but through this all you have to determine what you want (need) to hear. For instance, a dumky is a contrast between a slow and very melancholy section and something completely opposite bringing in something lively and spirited. Tempo is a huge consideration here. What you might consider to be a perfect tempo in the slower sections, for example, will be different than what I need and so on and vice versa. Most groups tend to rush the slower sections.
The permutations are endless in chamber music because some players work together well as a unit and others don’t. My search for the perfect recording will never be found for myself as I am too analytical. Every recording has pluses and minuses. Certainly the one thing that can vary despite the interpretation is the recorded sound (balance) and in chamber music this is really important.
For the Dumky especially, I look for character in the playing. Hard to explain but if you listen to enough recordings you can tell something is different in the way each group will phrase or approach the rhythm. Some play it very straight and some add in a certain flair, which cannot be written on the page totally but comes from knowledge of certain areas, periods, or cultures. This is sort of like listening to different accents in how people talk. So you can imagine from village to village or country to country there is an inevitable nuance to a dance rhythm and so on. In general, this music should sound very characteristic and rhythmic.
The voices of the strings in this trio is very important as well. All three voices work equally but it isn’t possible to impose vibrato on a piano exactly and so a lot of depth of character is added through the quality and imagination of the string players here. In the slow sections it is the emotional context and in the lively section it can be the rough around the edges character etc.
My biggest complaint with various recordings is that the slower sections tend to be rushed. Unfortunate really as the whole effect of contrast is diminished when the slow section doesn’t totally bleed the red blood of sorrow and anguish. You should be reaching for a Kleenex to dampen the flood of tears at one moment and then the next moment be up and dancing wildly. In the case of the Dumky Trio, it is written in an ABAB structure which means you will alternate between melancholy and jolly romping twice per movement times six since there is six movements.
I wish I had the time to write about music (both solo and chamber music especially followed by concertos) and describe the differences between recordings and interpretations. This is a fascinating topic for me but would be more than a full time job to do it correctly. I have played this trio (as a pianist) as well as many others over the years. Typically, what happens is that when I get involved in learning a new work I tend to collect a multitude of recordings and listen wildly trying to get familiar with the work while sorting out my own thoughts on the interpretation. Once I get going on the work at the piano I tend to stop listening to recordings as by this time I have my own vision from that point onward. This might be why I get so critical of even the smallest points in recordings from this point onwards.
In the case of the Dumky Trio it has been about 15 or more years since I played it and your post made me feel like a kid in a candy store again as it felt like I am again learning this work for the first time again. The problem is that it has again spurred my continuing love of chamber music and so I found myself exploring different recordings and catching up on chamber groups I didn’t even know existed. The result is adding up to be a pretty expensive month coming up as I stock up on different recordings.
I am not sure if this will be helpful for you but I will list the groups I currently have and then a list of recordings that my research through this exercise has led me to purchase in the coming week. I can wholeheartedly tell you that you will enjoy any one of these for your choice. In fact, you heard the Czech Trio first and I might suggest that you won’t go wrong with it as a start since you seemed to be attracted by it in the first place. As you will see, I am picking up that version as well.
Current versions I own:
Guarneri Trio Prague
Emanual Ax, Young Uck Kim, Yo-Yo Ma
Jean-Guihen Queyras, Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov
Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch
Beaux Arts Trio (Three versions: 2004, 1985, 1969)
The Florestan Trio
Versions I will buy next:
Czech Trio (Ceske Trio)
Max Brod Trio
Sebastian Klinger, Lisa Batiashvili, Milana Chernyavska
The Z.E.N. Trio
So, apologies for not being more concise as well as not being more specific! I could talk about the pros and cons of each recording and eventually come up with the winner if forced to but this would take more than several weeks of work and would result in a book. In general, my tastes lean to anyone who plays musically.
Although I would tend to favour a full time trio but a surprisingly good result can be heard with the Jean-Guihen Queyras, Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov recording. Of the new recordings I will get I think I am most interested in the Trio Solisti. Having said this, I find so much joy in all these various recordings once you understand what they are trying to create.
I hope that this foray into the Dumky Trio is just the start of a very long and fulfilling adventure into the world of chamber music. Believe me, there is so much to be found here and really once you get into it you will be surprised how rich and varied this field really is.