Mark Gresham | 28 OCT 2020
On Monday evening the Summit Piano Trio (violinist Helen Kim, cellist Charae Krueger and pianist Robert Henry) performed a virtual-only concert of music by Haydn, Lalo and Kirchner, live-streamed from Morgan Concert Hall of the Bailey Performance Center at Kennesaw State University.
It was both a joy and a relief to hear some less-heard repertoire for a change, and hear it skillfully played. The video stream went smoothly and the audio captured the musicians’ performance well with no synchronization issues.
The program began with the Piano Trio No. 44 in E major, Hob. XV/28 of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), in which the Allegro moderato first movement opens with a phrase where the violin and cello play pizzicato. Combined with the piano part of similar sentiment, the passage leaves the distinct impression of being played by a single plucked instrument, such as a lute. This simple identifying theme returns multiple times in the same manner, except in the development when it appears in the key of A-flat major and takes on a broad anthem-like character.
At the end of the development there is a fermata on an eighth rest just before the pickup into the recapitulation. It was at this point that Henry took opportunity to improvise a cadenza that evolved into more of a Brahmsian excursion as it progressed. It was an interesting experiment. Whether or not Papa Haydn ever had any intentions of the kind beyond a momentarily extended pause, which would have been in character for him, it was still fun to hear where Henry was going with it, and whether he would find his way back home. He did, and the remainder of the movement proceeded per normal.
The fact that the “slow” movement that followed is marked Allegretto is a big clue to its successful performance. Were the underlying walking bass played at a much slower tempo, it would make the passacaglia-like feeling sound more like a dirge. It’s in E minor, and all three musicians play the dark opening phrase quietly in unison, then the piano gets a long solo passage, with the right hand playing a lyrically delicate ornamental melody above of almost Bach-like character. When the strings re-enter the music begins to build toward an emphatic climax where the ornamental line is passed to the cello and pianist’s left hand for while, then back to the top of the texture as the brief movement winds down to its close.
The sprightly Rondo that concludes the trio offers a few adventures of its own. Grounded in E major, it is surprisingly chromatic at times, especially in a parallel minor section where the music begins to wander off, harmonically speaking, and finds itself going to a key signature of four flats for a mere five measures before returning to one sharp, but Haydn might as well have skipped the brief change of key signature, because so many accidentals are already present in the five measures that precede it, one might as well plow on with the signature of one sharp, in terms of the notation. But the change to four flats does itself hearken back to the A-flat major passage in the development of the first movement. You can sit down with the score and dissect these things in detail if you like, or just listen and enjoy the winding ride.
Aside from the Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra, cellists best know and admire the French composer Édouard Lalo (1823-1892) for his Cello Concerto in D minor. But for those cellists who don’t already, they should get to know his Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 7, which favors the cello quite a bit.
The Allegro moderato first movement opens with unaccompanied cello and prominent melodic passages for the instrument follow within that movement. The slower second movement is a Andante “Romance” that feels melodically dominated by cello, while the swinging Scherzo third movement offers more equity among the players and considerable hearty dialog between violin and cello. Like the first movement, the “Final” opens with an unaccompanied cell, this time as a “Recitative” before jumping into a brisk, full-bodied Allegro, affording much additional dialog between the strings over a tumultuous piano part, that ends with an emphatic fff bang.
The concert concluded with a piece that musically functioned as an encore but was written into the program anyway, Serenade by Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903) a tuneful bit of romantic sentiment, of a kind surely popular in its day, that blissfully melted away at its end. ■
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