Some concerts require no encore: the Atos Trio performed music of Turina, Mendelssohn, and Schubert for the Steinway Society, Sunday, March 4 at the Petit Trianon Theatre. Before a small but decidedly enraptured audience, the Trio – celebrating its 15th year of collaboration – displayed a consistent level of ensemble and spontaneous, insightful musicianship as to elevate them to the upper echelons of chamber music performers.
Joaquin Turina’s Piano Trio No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 76 (1933) reveals a distinctly Classical approach to form, given the composer’s penchant for French harmony and Spanish colors. In these regards he follows Ravel, enjoying a chiseled sense of an exotic melodic line and pert, spicy rhythms, such as the Scherzo’s 5/8 dance meter of the Molto vivace second movement. From the outset, the three superb instrumentalists – Annette von Hehn, violin; Thomas Hoppe, piano; and Stefan Heinemeyer, cello – intoned each of the their parts with such elastic grace as to beguile as immediately in lean, transparent figures in major and minor alternations in the first movement, Lento – Allegro molto moderato. This reviewer could not escape the boundless charisma of Stefan Heinemeyer’s cello, a British “Kennedy” instrument of fairly recent cast whose tonal energy equals any Gofriller instrument I could name. The last movement, Lento – Andante mosso – Allegretto plays like landscape music, but its devotion to the cyclic techniques of Ravel, Franck, and Chausson cemented its passions in a kind of sweet circle. The consistently liquid keyboard part maintained a dynamic balance that set the architectural weights for the afternoon.
Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 66 (1845) proves unique in the composer’s canon, given its nervous tension that erupts in the opening Allegro energico e con fuoco and remains fairly pervasive throughout. Establishing powerful pedal-points, Mendelssohn does gravitate to E-flat Major, but he eschews the comfort of this affect for more dire emotions. The polyphonic character of the writing proves no less impressive, and so the feverish character of the music evinces concentration and architectural rigor. The Andante in A-flat Major provided us a song-without-words in the form of a piano trio in triple time, a gentle complement to the storms of movement one. The Scherzo movement, for all its “fairy” whimsy, rather adumbrates Brahms in its contrapuntal facility and its modal shifts, often jabbing us with something like gypsy scales. The Finale leapt at us, literally, with a ninth interval, and with a “symphonic” scale of sound that would soon appropriate Mendelssohn’s penchant for chorale writing. Hoppe’s keyboard technique – a product of American pedagogue Lee Luvisi – manifestly ranked in the virtuoso category, given Mendelssohn’s punishing demands for cascades of sound and equally gossamer dynamics, when required.
Schubert’s 1827 Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major, D. 929 remains one of those miracles of music that defy causal explanation, while its sheer girth must evoke from us the epithet “heavenly length.” The work, too, will eventually reveal some “cyclical” elements, but not before Schubert has taken us through some fabulous, circuitous harmonic routes. The music’s first movement embraces a diverse panoply of emotions, at first assertive and resolute, then it moves into a reflective B Minor for one of its six melodies. The persistent ostinato motif creates a tension that often ends in a kind of period and then restarts with a fresh emotion, much in anticipation of the Bruckner symphony-style. Organically integrated as well as dramatic, Robert Schumann once called this work “an angry comet in the sky.”
The second movement Andante con moto has achieved a life of its own: Heinemeyer’s ardent cello announced a solemn march in minor, then the violin entered with a tender theme of consolation. But the music refuses to reconcile, and after canonic treatment it twice erupts into fierce passion before returning to the uneasy march. The patterns underlying the strings in the keyboard have the tragic flavor of one of Schubert’s lieder, a liquid, palpably intimate motion towards tragedy. In his brief preparatory remarks, Hoppe reminded us of this music’s appearance in Stanley Kubrick’s film version of the Thackeray novel, Barry Lyndon. The sprightly – and once more polyphonic – Scherzo intertwined two and three part textures. The outer section and its Trio invoked Vienna and its rustic environs. At moments, the motion assumed a stomping, insistent character, quite potentially capable of returning to the tragic pose.
Following his idol Haydn, Schubert opts for a rondo-sonata form in the finale: Allegro moderato. The opening motions once again prove ambivalent, energetic and buoyant, grim and darkly fateful. The violin and piano trade toccata filigree in brisk motion, but the martial element prevails until, in a moment of lyric passion, the cello theme of the Andante revives, Schubert’s having dropped back one more movement than had Beethoven in his Fifth Symphony. What the Atos then achieved lay in combining four motifs into a whirling tapestry of lyric power and architecture, all occurring on a level with Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony finale. This sense of unity-in-variety quite astonished performers and captive audience alike; and, after an extended applause, pianist Hoppe admitted the ensemble could think of nothing worthy to succeed Schubert at this time.