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More Peabody, More Beethoven (A Consort of Hearing Aids)

At the Corcoran Gallery of Art last Friday, April 29, the Peabody Trio—I think—played a phenomenal op.1/3, C minor trio first movement (Allegro con brio quasi tranquillo), but I wouldn't really know, because a most insidiously distracting and awful high-pitched peep—like a metronome almost, but with varying speeds—distracted me so much that listening to the music became all but impossible. I thought of asking the trio not to continue with the second movement, the Andante cantabile con variazioni, until the source of noise had been shut off, but what if it were a pacemaker? Still...

Fortunately, this was not necessary since other (rightly) outraged audience members, taking their cue from inquiring violinist Violaine Melançon, demanded that everyone check their hearing aid. This set off a veritable concerto of hearing-aid noises that unfolded around the Corcoran's Hammer Auditorium. The artists took it with much grace: pianist Seth Knopp first observed that the buzzing was actually quite musical and then pointed out, to much laughter, that Beethoven, if anyone, would have actually appreciated it all. The following movement followed without incident, and violence had once again—narrowly—been avoided at a chamber music recital.

The trio went on to prove why the C minor is the most popular of the op.1 trios. Succulent piano passages (the little Steinway of the Corcoran may never be a really good instrument, but at least it was tuned this time and sounded good enough) and wild string attacks make especially the Menuetto: Quasi allegretto and Finale: Prestissimo immediately involving.

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Works for Cello & Piano,
M.Perényi & A.Schiff

After taking their well-deserved bow, the Peabody forgot Mme. Melançon behind the stage... so remaining Mr. Knopp and Natasha Brofsky played a cello sonata, No.3 in A major, op. 69. The beautiful work, which has just seen a succession of brilliant performances on disc (Brendel père et fils on Philips, Anne Gastinel and François-Frédéric Guy on naïve, and Miklos Perényi and András Schiff on ECM), was naturally impressive in the great acoustics of the Corcoran's Auditorium. The performance got better towards the end after a good number of cello notes were woefully off in the opening Allegro.

The Ghost Trio (D major, op.70/1) is related to Beethoven's preceding work (the cello sonata just heard) in how it has nothing in common with it. In a little and very worthwhile lecture/introduction before the performance, Mr. Knopp pointed out, however, that the works did have something in common, namely that neither have a variation movement. (Neither I nor Mr. Knopp have blonde hair, while we are at amazing similarities.)

The performance was full of vigor and energy. Friends of muscular Beethoven would have much appreciated it, while others might have found it a bit shrill at times. In the slow movement, the unbeautiful tone of the piano became noticeable. Mr. Knopp's off-key humming did not always enhance the softer passages. These quibbles aside, it was an interesting enough performance to leave one anticipating the third and final installment on May 13th, which will include the Archduke Trio. What it will unfortunately not include is Beethoven's second symphony, which Beethoven himself transcribed for piano trio. Far from being an obscure exercise only for specialist interest, it is one of Beethoven's finest works for piano trio, and I dare say that were it not for the second symphony, it would rank with the Archduke and the Ghost.

May 13th may be the last concert this season, but a look ahead to next season is mouthwatering, already. The quartet of quartets, the Takács, will come to play Mozart's "Dissonance," Bartok no.2, and "Death and the Maiden" with their "new wheel," the San Francisco Symphony's Principal Jewett Chair, violist Geraldine Walther. Will they have survived the loss of the imitable Roger Tapping? Speaking of the devil: Roger Tapping will appear thrice at the Corcoran, playing second fiddle to three Mozart string quintets, each with a different quartet. The Amsterdam Trio (which performed the night of this concert at the Maison Française), will be in D.C., too—with the Fauré trio, among other pieces.

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