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The Peabody Trio's Beethoven Extravaganza

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L.v.Beethoven, Piano Trios, op.70,
Peabody Trio

Last Friday saw the Peabody Trio's first installment of an abbreviated cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven's piano trios open with the "Kakakadu" Variations (G major, op.121a) and the trios opp. 1 (no. 1), 11, and 70 (no. 2) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. If the excellent Frances and Armand Hammer Auditorium impresses with its intimacy and acoustics every time I hear a concert there, it would have been in vain had not the Peabody Trio done its part with a fine performance.

Natasha Brofsky (only mean-humored spirits would quip that she is to the Takács Quartet what Yoko Ono was to the Beatles, by taking away her husband Roger Tapping, as they both join the faculty at New England Conservatory) on the cello and the almost perfectly named Violaine Melançon came across with a rich and vibrant sound. Behind them, Seth Knopp worked hard on a piano, of which—at best—it can be said that its mediocrity contributed to the "authentic" chamber music feel.

The "Kakakadu" Variations are striking in that they do not only pack very easily accessible beauty (not a given with the sometimes austere late Beethoven) but also seem to contain all the true Adagio moments that that are "missing" from the other trios. (Susan Joseph's program notes explain that the core of these variations stems from as early as 1794, which may go some way in explaining at least the former of those aspects.)

The Piano Trio, op.1/1, is as splendid an official first work as any composer could hope for. Leaving the trio vernacular of his short-time teacher Haydn behind, he does so sometimes at his peril but more often than not with great success. The source of incessant off-key humming may remain unknown, but I have reason to suspect Mr. Knopp to be the culprit. If it was indeed him, he made up for it with the enthusiasm with which he salvaged Beethoven from the uncooperative Steinway baby grand. Important though was that the vigor and dedication on offer made for a very enjoyable performance of op.1, as well as the following op.11 in B-flat major.

Trio, op.70/2, in E-flat major opens broadly and with sweeping gestures in its Poco sustenuto first movement. Even after almost 90 minutes of Beethoven, the Peabody Trio still brought fresh energy to the work, and in many ways it was performed with yet greater skill and commitment than the preceding trios. The finale (Allegro) particularly, with its many teases, run-ups, and withdrawals—coy here, raw there—was ravishing. To witness such a substantial sample of Beethoven's trios (all but four are presented over the course of three concerts at the Corcoran) surely has edifying elements, but the entertainment and beauty alone would bring me back to the remaining performances. Tickets seem still to be available, and anyone with a love for Beethoven's chamber music might like to sample one of the remaining concerts. The performances will be on April 29th (Trios opp. 1, no. 3, and 70, no. 2, and Cello Sonata, op.69) and May 13th (Trios opp. 1, no. 2, and 97, the "Archduke," and Violin Sonata, op.96).

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