This review is an Ionarts exclusive.
Piano Trios (Ravel, Fauré, Martin), Altenberg Trio Wien
Two Haydn trios -- so many of them, so rarely played! -- mostly highlighted the consummately tasteful playing of pianist Claus-Christian Schuster, reining in the Dumbarton Steinway, whose noisy, crunchy action has bothered me on previous occasions (Paderewski played on the instrument and left his signature). The action was particularly present on the box side, where I sat for the first half, and less so from my later position on the keyboard side. Schuster was an attentive partner, always with one eye on his colleagues, although he sometimes tended to rush them just slightly when he had fast passage work. His Rococo decoration, as in the luscious slow movement of no. 12, had admirable lightness, and he gave remarkable energy to the frothy final movement of Hob. XV:23. Neither violinist Amiram Ganz nor the group's newest member, cellist Alexander Gebert (joined in 2004), made solo sounds that captivated the ear, but melded their performances to Schuster for Haydn that was reserved, stylish, and very musical.
Stronger group performances came on more recent pieces, especially the gorgeous A major piano trio by Ravel that closed the concert. Ganz had a lovely, translucent tone high on the E string in the sultry opening of the first movement, matched by a more tender sound from the cello (although the harmonics from the strings at the close of the movement were more than a little dicey). The second movement -- labeled a pantoum by Ravel, a reference to a Malaysian poetic form -- had the feel of a sweeping waltz, while the third-movement Passacaille continued the Asian influence in the use of open harmonies and pentatonic melodies. The first half concluded with the relatively rare piano trio by Ernest Chausson (op. 3), which again featured the remarkable finger facility of Schuster at the piano, flying through a part that consists largely of busily animated harmonic patterns and anchoring bass lines. The influence of Wagner was most prominent in the seething slow movement, with its chromatic and otherwise heavily perfumed harmonies. At times, it was the sort of exotic-flavored music -- and the encore, the scherzo from Debussy's youthful piano trio, too -- that might have tamed the cobra recently escaped from the Bronx Zoo, who already has a Twitter account, if she had made her way this far south.
The final concert on the Dumbarton Oaks series will feature clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu (April 17 and 18).