Mark Gresham | 27 FEB 2020
Distance and traffic can be preoperative factor in whether one chooses to attend a concert. Especially if one is unable to drive – even if temporarily – and the limitations of public transportation from Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods to an exurb venue located some 25 miles away make that option a de facto impossibility for an 8pm concert, even a highly attractive one at an excellent venue.
Such as the case on Wednesday evening with a concert by the Summit Piano Trio (Helen Hwaya Kim, violin; Charae Krueger, cello and Robert Henry, piano) at the Bailey Performance Center’s Morgan Hall on the campus of Kennesaw State University. Fortunately, KSU provides an effective solution, even if a second choice option for the avid concertgoer: it live streams many of its concerts, which was the case with this program.
Unable to be there in person, I experienced the Summit Piano Trio concert through video streaming, as I had done successfully once before with a recital by pianist Robert Henry. Once again, it proved a positive experience that well-suited the rather pragmatic need.
The program opened with the Piano Trio No. 39 in G major, Hob. XV/25 by Franz Joseph Haydn. Written in 1795, it is the composer’s best-known piano trio, in large part due to its concluding Rondo movement in “Hungarian” style – hence its nickname, the “Gypsy” Trio. The Summit Trio played the “Andante” first movement with delightful clarity and detail, then turned to a somewhat warmer sound for the “Poco adagio, cantabile” that followed. The energetic “Rondo a l’Ongarese: Presto” capped off the work brilliantly.
Combining elements of tango, jazz and classical music, Astor Piazzolla wrote Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”) over a span of several years for his own Quinteto Nuevo Tango to perform – an ensemble comprised of bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, piano and string bass. Like much of Piazzolla’s music, there are multiple transcriptions available for different combinations of instruments.
Back in early January, we heard a version for solo violin and string orchestra performed by violinist Justin Brums and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Mulligan. What we heard on Wednesday was (naturally) a version for violin, cello and piano.
Of those two transcriptions, my own preference falls with the latter. The a violin is the featured soloist in the orchestral version throughout, although the principal cellist is afforded a prominent solo passage in the second part (“Autumn”). But in this version for piano trio, the forces are well balanced, each player having a truly equal say in the musical conversation, and yet each was afforded ample time in the spotlight. The Summit Trio’s performance had a musical immediacy that was palpable and truly engaging. One wanted to rewind and hear it again, but the video was, of course, being streamed live.
An interesting sound immediately noticed in the performance was Helen Kim’s use of “chicharra” (Spanish for “cicada”) which violin players in tango orchestras make by bowing on the short lengths of string below the instrument’s bridge that are attached to the tailpiece. This creates a scraping insect-like sound that emulates that of a cicada. Tango composers use the effect in a similar manner to the guiro, a percussion instrument made of a dried gourd with “washboard” grooves and played by scraping with a small stick. The rhythmic “chicharra” is not written into Piazzolla’s score, but is understood by musicians and called for as a matter of style and tango performance practice.
The group took an intermission then closed the concert with the Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op .8, of Johannes Brahms. It is unusual in that exists in two published versions. The first, completed in 1854, was the first of the his chamber works to be published. Nearly three and a half decades later, Brahms revised it at the invitation of his publisher, Simrock, and allowed both versions to co-exist and be promoted. Today, the revised version is the one most frequently performed performed and the one heard in Wednesday’s concert. In the hands of the Summit Trio, it came across as a melding of psyches of the youthful and the mature Brahms. It a fitting wrap-up to a very satisfying program. ■