After a week at Chamberfest (cross-reference below) it was instructive to return to Music Niagara for a program of piano trios. In Ottawa, the 10 venues provide almost as much variation as the performers; many of those have been purposely renovated (notably Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and The Church of St. John the Evangelist). With those as a recent source for comparison, it seemed a good time to “hear” St. Mark’s from both the balcony and the main floor.
The concert began with an energetic reading of Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio. The daunting score is an exacting test of any ensemble where all is soon revealed. It was obvious from the start that these performers (Martin Staub piano, Angela Golubeva, violin and Sébastien Singer, cello) were committed to their craft and supportive of each other. Especially memorable was the “Scherzo” which was heard as a model of clarity and contrast from the back of the hall.
Following intermission, the trio presented a scintillating performance of Daniel Schnyder’s Piano Trio. More than a decade old (completed in 2000), the five movement work is perfect festival fare, not dissimilar to the global renaissance of tango, fuelled everywhere by Astor Piazzolla’s creative, flexible compositions. The brief movements combine into an effective whole, having recorded this and other Swiss works in 2005 (Musiques Suisses #6215) it’s hardly surprising that the music came across so well.
Schumann’s dark D Minor Trio closed out the evening. By now, the trio was totally adjusted to the acoustics (the new stage is a vast improvement, allowing listeners to hear much more of the details and finesse of the players). The opening “Mit Energie und Leidenschaft” featured impressive ebb-and-flow with Staub deftly anchoring his colleagues. The “Scherzo” was “gamefully” rendered; thanks to its a spot-on tempo it was the perfect foil to all that preceded and followed. Singer’s upper register lines and Golubeva’s sensitive interweaving made the often desolate “Langsam” memorable. “Mit Feuer” certainly lived up to its name, with everyone searing through the pages until—at last—the composer’s overarching angst had been banished in favour of hope.
With two performances slated for Chamberfest, including one of “New Music Dialogues” where Schnyder’s Trio will share the stage with Peter Wettstein (Fünf mystische Tänze) and Iris Szeghy (Poetische Studien), Ottawa music lovers are in for a fascinating afternoon of new music from Switzerland. JWR
Piano Trio Op. 97 in B-flat Major, “Archduke”
DGG 2530 147, 1970
Long before the notion of globalization took hold, this international trio—German pianist Wilhelm Kempff, Polish violinist Henryk Szeryng and French cellist Pierre Fournier—found a way to merge three temperaments and schools of playing into a musical whole that is led by the score rather than individuality.
The result is not as strident or flashy as many modern practitioners prefer but provides an oasis of pleasure and understanding for those who savour substance over sound.
From the first measure of the “Allegro moderato,” there is an immediate sense of “One for all, All for one” (the motto of The Three Musketeers is also Switzerland’s traditional motto). The themes are presented in a delicate, refined manner , never losing the sense of the development to come. True rhythm (especially duples that don’t stray into triples and vice versa), fleshy pizzicato and the players’ ability to personally deliver the orchestrally conceived content and discreetly acknowledge the harmonic shifts—who could ask for anything more?
The “Scherzo” is a fluffy soufflé (no “scrambles” here) that dances its way forward. The miniscule, errant entry from the violin serves to prove that (a) humans are involved (b) the collective excellence of the take rightly trumped one blemish. Should today’s digital wizardry have been employed to “correct” the truth?
All of the players shine in the deeply introspective variations (“Andante cantabile, ma però con motto”)—a veritable study in the art of sotto voce: truly underneath the surface, yet compellingly put forth. Kempff is especially adept at grading repeated notes in diminuendo: each one just a touch softer than its predecessor. Fournier finds and shares the exquisite warmth of the theme which is soon joined and beautifully complemented when Szeryng adds his dulcet tone. The serenity of the closing measures magically eases its way into the transition.
The “Finale” is properly “moderato” whose main theme, just a hair short of coquettish, becomes the perfect sorbet to the more intense “Andante.” The chord-outline dialogues from the strings exude the feeling of eavesdropping on private secrets, leading to the light-hearted closing section that successfully scales its few bits of side-drama before coming to a resounding finish. JWR