We think of Beethoven as the sculpted figure glowering down at us from a hero’s perch at the Pabst Theater, as a musical Atlas with the philosophical weight of all humanity on his shoulders.
He was that, but not all the time. Beethoven is also an underrated musical prankster. His earlier symphonies abound with rowdy, buffa dance music. Such music makes me wish he’d tried his hand at comic opera, as did the Opus 11 Trio the Prometheus Trio took on Monday evening.
Violinist Timothy Klabunde, cellist Scott Tisdel and pianist Stefanie Jacob appreciate musical humor perhaps a little more than the next guy, and they also like to play with a rowdy abandon. Both qualities served Beethoven well. The now-for-something-completely-different bits and pieces that form the first movement had just the right Monty Python ethos. They played the sweetly nostalgic second movement straight; I’m sure that Beethoven meant to give us a breather before the outrageously silly variations of the finale. The moral of this piece and this performance: Beethoven can be fun and funny.
Eric Ewazen’s Trio dates to 1991, but it sounds like 1940: modal, vaguely folky Americana, vaguely jazzy, with barbed syncopations snagging at the high velocity of the finale. The Prometheans articulated its rhythms and meters clearly, which is crucial, and built convincingly to its climaxes.
They ended with Dvorak’s Trio Opus 65, which is chamber music only in the sense that just three people play it. Opus 65 is epic in every other way, as rich and weighty as any of Dvorak’s symphonies. Beyond the formidable technical challenges involved in just getting the notes out, the music tests the players’ sense of drama. The first movement, especially, has a set of complicated characters who grow and change and shift relationships in an unfolding story of exposition, development and denouement, with a twist at the end. The Prometheans made it gripping and coherent.
The Prometheus Trio is in residence at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N. Prospect Ave., where this program took place and where it will be repeated at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16. Note the time change; the trio is trying something different this time around; the Tuesday concerts in the past have been in the evenings. Call 414-276-5760 for tickets.