Tom Strini
Review

Prometheus Trio’s noteworthy opener

By - Sep 14th, 2010 12:00 am
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Prometheus Trio. Photo courtesy of website.

The piano is a machine. It should sound pretty much the same whether you strike the keys with a mallet or poke them down with the eraser end of your pencil or play them with your fingers. But through some quirk of acoustics, mechanics or psychology, touch changes everything.

That struck home with particular force at a Prometheus Trio concert Monday night (Sept. 13). Violinist Tim Klabunde, cellist Scott Tisdel and pianist Stefanie Jacob opened with Haydn’s Trio in A-flat, from 1790. He wrote it for harpsichord, which really doesn’t respond to touch. Some pianists try to approximate harpsichord sound by playing more dryly, with marked articulation and space between the tones. Jacob let the piano be the piano, with all its richness and resonance. — except in the second movement. There, her deft touch on keys and pedals somehow made the Wisconsin Conservatory’s big Steinway sound exactly like a chiming little celesta. I have no idea how she did that, but it was perfect for the music-box delicacy of Haydn’s slow movement.

The performance overall was equally apt, as all three musicians got the witty contrast of high dudgeon and ditziness in the first movement and the crazy rhythms tucked into the ornaments of the breakneck finale, which always seems to be on the edge of a pratfall.

They brought a different sound and ethos to Fauré’s elegant Opus 120. The first movement flowed by rapidly but relaxed. They placed melodies placed just so, rhythmically, to give the impression of tunes sliding and gliding in the troughs and swells of the undulating, running accompaniment. They relaxed completely at the placid outset of the second movement, but put more of an edge on their sound as gradually as the composer sharpened the edge of the harmonies. The gnarly and abrupt finale hammered in an exclamation point as final as a nail.

The Prometheans ended with the grand Romantic drama of Brahms String Sextet No. 2, as arranged for trio by Brahms’ friend Theodor Kirchner. If you didn’t know that, you’d take the for a straight-up Brahms trio; Kirchner was that skilled and sensitive.

Klabunde, Tisdel and Jacob sustained the dramatic arc over all four movements, through all the varied moods and abundant musical materials. The repeated minor seconds vibrated through the first movement like some relentlessly trembling membrane. I admired the crazed jollity they drew from middle section (the trio, it’s called) of the second movement, and the feel of a ticking bomb they brought to the start of the variations movement (the detonations came in the third and fourth variations). Catharsis arrived in the finale, in the form of an explosive, yet high-minded dance, a Romantic apotheosis of the jig.

The audience in the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s little recital hall gave the three a rousing ovation. The players calmed us down with a luscious, buttery waltz of an encore by one Zdenek Fibich. Sweet.

Finally, I’d like to note Jacob’s program notes. She might be the best in town at this minor art because she mostly observes what she sees and hears in the music directly. An example, about Brahms’ finale: “Repeated 16th-notes build to a climax before giving way to a lilting, bucolic theme… These repeated 16ths return at every structural point, immediately preceding the joyous second subject, introducing the fugato that begins the development, and bubbling throughout the Animato coda…”

That little hint helps a listener locate himself within a very complicated piece of music. That’s what program notes should do.

This program repeats at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14. More info here.

0 thoughts on “Review: Prometheus Trio’s noteworthy opener”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Goodness, thank you, Tom!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s more than obvious that you like this group very much; what a marvelous review!

  3. Anonymous says:

    A pleasant feature of Stefanie’s notes is that she reminds us that she is often playing two parts – distinguishing between role of the left and right hand.

    An exception was with the Brahms “Sextet”, where she was assigned four parts by Kirchner’s arrangement.

    The first movement made me want to go back to the original version to learn how the strings in the Brahms sextet were to sound when Kirchner assigned a repetitive two note ostinato to the piano. I suspect that strings would have blended more effectively in this background role. However, by the last movement, the piano was allowed by Kirchner to do what it does best – fully exploring the length of the keyboard.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The opening night performance of this year’s Prometheus Trio was indeed excellent. The Adagio movement (Trio in A-flat Major by Haydn)was beautiful. Stefanie’s delicate touch made the spirit soar.

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