Review

Goodbye Timothy Klabunde

Prometheus plays its last date with violinist Klabunde, and it was a memorable concert indeed.

By - Apr 22nd, 2015 03:23 pm
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Prometheus Trio: pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Timothy Klabunde, cellist Scott Tisdel.

Prometheus Trio: pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Timothy Klabunde, cellist Scott Tisdel.

The Prometheus Trio—Stefanie Jacob, piano; Scott Tisdel, cello; Timothy Klabunde, violin—has been an important musical presence in Milwaukee for fifteen years (ten in this combination of artists), and it was a bittersweet occasion hearing these friends play their last concert together with Klabunde. As I listened, I let my alleged mind run to its own destinations, and the image of single-malt Scotch whiskey kept floating up. Just so we’re clear, I am a teetotaler. But there was a metaphor in my mind, that these musicians are smooth, filtered through the peat of experience, barreled in the oaken cask of friendship, and pour out their music splendidly to the listeners like angels were dancing in our ears.

Their program opened with Franz Joseph Haydn’s delightful Trio in G Major, Hob. XV: 41. This is extremely happy music. Even the plaster roses on the ceiling of the Helen Bader Recital Hall at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music looked rosier for the sweetness of the melodies. Jacob was the star of this piece. The first-movement Allegro had a trill-filled melody that she delivered with such charm and radiance, it was impossible not to smile. The second-movement Menuet was a stately dance colorfully decorated with ornaments, again beautifully executed by Jacob. The melody in the trio section was played with conviviality by Klabunde. Haydn was otherwise entirely economical with the string parts, relegating them to an occasional imitation of the piano line in the violin and a lot of simple highlighting of the chord structure in the cello. Jacob’s graceful playing in the Adagio carbonated the tender melody. The Finale: Allegro flew by with joyous spirit. Jacob offered virtuosic playing throughout.

The second work on the program was the Piano Trio No. 3, Wayfaring Stranger, composed by Milwaukeean Daron Hagen. I loved the trio’s performance of this tremendously moving work. The hymn Wayfaring Stranger has been adapted by everyone from Johnny Cash to Emmylou Harris to George Crumb to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so the musical canvas was wide open for creativity. Hagen’s gentle hand gives his trio an American flavor with a unique tenderness and grace with occasional hints of Samuel Barber, Ned Rorem and Aaron Copland. The effect was compelling. The opening, Mazurka: Gracious, pleasant & charming, was all that. The Mazurka was an undefined dance in a lilting 7/8 meter; the pulse emphasis changed so smoothly that listeners quickly had to give up looking for the beat and simply enjoy the “gracious, pleasant, and charming.” The second movement Theme began with an Appalachian-like demonstration of the Wayfaring Stranger hymn that become an impassioned musical plea and then ended as warm and soothing as a prayer. The movement marked Fandango: Strictly was completely engaging and had a distinctly cinematic quality—picture a highly suspenseful scene, perhaps with Scarlett Johansson clad in black, that features a lot of sneaking about, danger, and derring-do—this was perfect music for it. Aubade & Variations is a charming set of short variations on the Wayfaring Stranger theme that move from sweet to declamatory and then fade away to a melancholy close.

Tisdel played the work with his usual aplomb including a passage with some ridiculously impressive harmonics. Jacob directed phrases with sensitivity, power, and heartfelt pulse. Klabunde played beautifully throughout. His generous musicality and energetic violin playing were in top form.

After a slightly distracted Jacob straightened Tisdel’s suit collar to her satisfaction, the second half of the program was devoted to an absorbing trio version of the Brahms String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18 arranged for piano trio by Theodor Kirchner. The string sextet of Brahms is a keystone of string chamber music. Hearing it in this version is no less satisfying than the sextet, and it gave the trio many opportunities to show their formidable chamber music skills.

Ten years together as an ensemble has imbued in these three a musical camaraderie that is a treat for audiences. At once intimate and welcoming, their music making was a pleasure, as though these friends had us into their living room to play Haydn, Hagen, and Brahms not for the notice but for the love of it. Congratulations to Klabunde, we shall miss his playing with the group, and bravo to the Prometheus Trio for a memorably pleasurable evening.

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