by Mark Gresham | 20 SEP 2016
KENNESAW, GA – On Monday evening the Summit Piano Trio (violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, cellist Charae Krueger and pianist Robert Henry) performed a concert of music by Beethoven and Arensky. The performance took place in Morgan Hall of the Bailey Performance Center on the campus of Kennesaw State University.
The program opened with a familiar work, Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 – commonly known as the “Archduke Trio,” one of a total of 14 works the composer dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria. I won’t elaborate further on the Trio itself, since often performed, except to say that for me it is largely an example of “happy, cheerful Beethoven,” and the Summit musicians brought to it a great deal of facility and sunshine in their performance.
By contrast, I was entirely unfamiliar with the other work on the program, the Piano Trio, Op. 32 of Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861–1906), despite the fact it has been recorded and released commercially no less than 18 times in this century alone. Still, Arensky is today not a household name though he has never entirely dropped off the classical music radar.
Arensky was a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Among his own students were Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Gretchaninov. Yet fate placed Arensky in a netherworld of not quite obscurity but neither the brilliant sunlight of fame, essentially for a lack of originality rather than any lack of compositional skill, which was at its peak in his chamber music. Even his own teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, said of him, “He will be soon forgotten.”
And yet no less than Igor Stravinsky, a Rimsky-Korsakov student of the next generation, spoke positively of the composer and his first piano Trio: “Arensky was friendly, interested, and helpful to me, … I always liked him and at least one of his works – the famous Piano Trio in D minor.” But Arensky placed his stylistic lot with mainstream European (Germanic) Romanticism rather than the Russian Nationalist school, following the lead of Tchaikovsky – which may have colored the opinion of Rimsky-Korsakov somewhat.
Despite lack of originality, this Piano Trio is a fine product of its era, and secures a foothold for Arensky in the history books as a composer. Its consistently energetic but lyrical opening movement contains traces of charming playfulness reminiscent of Mendelssohn. A blithesome Scherzo forms the second movement, followed by reflective, dreamy Elegia whose melancholic theme is introduced by muted cello. That mood is interrupted by the advent of the more emphatic Finale, which summarizes the Trio with references to what has gone before.
The musicians of the Summit Piano Trio again brought forth the music’s best qualities to the fore, concluding a enjoyable evening of music which engaged the listener and did not tire. $bull;