JWR Articles: Live Event - Haydn & Brahms (Featured performers: Julie Baumgartel, Margaret Gay, David Louie) - November 5, 2006

Haydn & Brahms

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Compelling warmth and thoughtful care

With the leaves of autumn blowing about the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the temperature gradually easing its way towards ice-wine bliss, what better way to pass a Sunday’s eve than a visit with The Gallery Players of Niagara. Unlike dozens of hearths in the vicinity of St. Mark’s Anglican Church, the warmth and cheering glow came from the heady combination of violin, cello and piano rather than kindling, near-dry logs and long-stem phosphorous sticks.

Haydn & Brahms—longtime companions in deed (Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56) or in approach (both knew the value of counterpoint and lovingly handed down the traditions of Bach)—whether symphony, solo piano or chamber works, always work well on the same bill.

Boldly, and effectively, “sandwiched in between” the Germanic slice of Classical and Romantic bread was the U.K.’s Judith Weir. From the early string octaves, spiced with retrograde motion, the first movement made its convincing case by opting for episodic invention rather than “textbook” development. Wise choice, given her compositional company on this occasion.

The “Scherzo à la bridge” was marvellously edgy but too vertical by half; the return not quite as seamless as imagined …

The early-on, dark crypt of the Finale soon flew into unison declamations then morphed again into a spectacular chase of ideas and hues. In the closing moments, Margaret Gay’s unerring cello took stage with authority but David Louie’s beautifully voiced piano nudged her aside, drawing the last words out with panache.

Haydn’s C Minor Piano Trio abounded in lean, focussed string tone from both Julie Baumgartel and Gay. That somewhat pleasant-to-a-fault approach was perfectly foiled by Louie’s assured touch and uncanny ability to lead or follow at will, more often than not bringing his colleagues to a cohesive point of view even as the page turns added more drama than should be expected.

The “Allegro spiritoso” lived up to its name, but would have benefited from more depth in phrasing breaths and a tad more weight on the goal of the frequent dotted rhythms. That aside, the “orchestral” balance was all that could be desired.

Although as rare as promises kept after an election, Brahms’ infrequent use of the tonality of B Major (hmmm, or was that C-flat Major?) matters little when one considers where it turns up. If he’d only written the Piano Trio, Op. 8 and the slow movement of his sublime Second Symphony—not to mention Ballade, Op. 10 No. 3, his genius and authority would, nonetheless, be assured.

In this performance, the music was well served. A full-blooded “Allegro” set the tone off the top. By movement’s end the “adieu” and closing dialogues forgave the occasional penchant for pushing rather than relaxing into the long legato lines.

Gay’s lead in the “Scherzo” was just arid enough. The “Trio” was extraordinarily rich, featuring generous use of entire bows and an orchestral-based tremolo that brought smiles all around.

After a somewhat uncertain liftoff, the “Adagio” was soon “into the string”; the teamwork sculpted every phrase with care and affection, which Louie managed on stage and “behind the scenes” with aplomb. Witness the wonderfully-lazy farewell triplets.

Finally, the “Waltz Macabre” was chock-a-block full of engaging moments where the three instrumentalists happily dissolved into one musical entity.

Can’t wait for the next Brahms’ installment—no matter what key it’s in! JWR

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Featured performers - Julie Baumgartel, Margaret Gay, David Louie
Piano Trio in C Minor, HOB XV:13 - Franz Joseph Haydn
Piano Trio - Judith Weir
Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8 - Johannes Brahms
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