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Altenberg Trio @ Dumbarton Oaks

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Piano Trios (Ravel, Fauré, Martin), Altenberg Trio Wien
Sometimes a performance can be pleasing in many ways without ever becoming the sort of concert that inspires or lingers in the memory. This is perhaps nowhere more true than chamber music, where the alchemy of great music making is the most elusive, because of the restricted musical means. It was true for most of the program offered on Monday night by the Altenberg Trio Wien, in the stunning Music Room at Dumbarton Oaks. The group, formed by some of the former members of the Vienna Schubert Trio, has had a distinguished performing history in the Washington area, last appearing at the Library of Congress in 2010 and at Dumbarton Oaks in 2008: while this concert presented much to admire, the group did not seem as gifted as their compatriots, the Wiener Klaviertrio, for example.

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).


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Downey:

Thank you for this concert review. I simply love the 'Altenberg Trio Wien'.
Please allow me to add that in the case of the (rarely played, indeed) Haydn piano trios musicians all over the world can purchase all of them, printed and bound, in Urtext quality (see below); there is no necessity to download this fabulous music from the free Petrucci library in their shabby "quality" (see your link-recommendation).
Thank you for your understanding.
Wolf-Dieter SEIFFERT
General Manager, G. Henle Publishers


Charles T. Downey said...

Normally, we do not allow advertising spam on Ionarts, but I am making an exception in this case. Of course, a scholarly edition is preferable to one of the older editions now in the public domain and therefore on IMSLP -- when one is in need of an authoritative score. However, for quick study, especially at the last minute, IMSLP is hard to beat, especially when the Henle alternative would involve ordering a score and waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

Has Henle given any thought to making complete scans of their editions available for study online? Scans that cannot be printed, that is, so that one has to order the printed version to have a real copy. I always recommend the online study scores from the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe, for example, over IMSLP when discussing a Mozart piece. I note that the Henle site offers a few sample pages from each edition, but that is not very helpful for online study.