The Vienna Piano Trio in San Jose

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It might have been billed as A Night in Vienna, as San Jose Chamber Music Society presented its first concert of the 2016-2017 season at the Trianon Theater in San Jose on October 23. The Vienna Piano Trio made its third appearance on this series over the past thirteen years. The ensemble was formed in 1988 and only recently welcomed its newest member, violinist David McCarroll, a native of Santa Rosa, California. Matthias Gredler, violoncello, and Stefan Mendl, piano, complete the Trio, based in Vienna. Vienna was also the home base of the three composers whose works were on the program, illustrating the importance of that city in the history of classical music. Trios by Mozart, Brahms and Schubert made up this tasty menu that contained large helpings of gorgeous melody.

The Vienna Trio made good use of the resonant acoustics of the Trianon Theater. The balance of the three instruments was consistently clear, allowing even minor details to be heard easily. The Trio in G Major by Mozart dates from 1788 and was his last and probably his greatest piano trio, an excellent example of classical perfection of symmetry and balance of themes and phrases. The first movement gave a lively start to the evening. The second movement, a Theme and Variations, allowed the musicians to explore contrasts of sonorities, while the concluding Rondo sparkled with rhythmic vitality. The Vienna Trio captured the playful spirit of the piece, which joyfully unfolds and then ends quietly.

In contrast to this quiet mood, the Trio in c minor by Brahms opened with explosive energy. This is the composer’s last and shortest work in this form. It begins boldly, similar to the opening statements in his Double Concerto and his first Piano Concerto. The two strings dialog with large melodic leaps while assertive chords in the piano punctuate the harmony. Some of the most expressive playing of the evening occurred in the Andante movement, where the conversational nature of the piece allowed the players to create some beautiful moments.

Schubert’s Trio in B-flat Major occupied the second half of the concert, lasting as long as the earlier two trios combined. It is joyful music, full of memorable tunes. It was satisfying to hear three musicians who breathe together, maintaining excellent ensemble while allowing expressive flexibility in timing.

As an encore they played the second movement (Andante con moto) of Brahms’ Trio No. 2 in C Major. As if anyone needed a dessert after the luxurious and satisfying Schubert Trio, the Vienna Trio offered this lovely and gentle close to a beautiful Viennese evening.

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