Tom Strini
Prometheus Trio

Bridge to Somewhere

The Prometheus Trio shows why British composer Frank Bridge deserves attention; and strong Mozart, Saint-Saens.

By - Oct 9th, 2012 12:27 am
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The Prometheus Trio: Stefanie Jacob, Timothy Klabunde, Scott Tisdel. Wisconsin Conservatory of Music photo.

The Prometheus Trio has taken a shine to Frank Bridge (1891-1941), an English composer with just a toehold on musical posterity. Violinist Timothy Klabunde, cellist Scott Tisdel and pianist Stefanie Jacob played Bridge’s 1907 Phantasie in C minor last December. Monday night, the three opened their season in part with Bridge’s Trio No. 2, from 1929.

As an encore, they played the much earlier Valse Russe, partly for its salon charm and partly to show how radically Bridge’s style had changed by 1929. You might mistake the Valse for Fritz Kreisler. You might mistake the Trio No. 2 for Bartók. But it’s British Bartók, hold the Hungarian paprika.

In 1929, this must have been a “difficult” piece, with its complex, dissonant harmonies and occasionally violent gestures and rhythms. It remains a monster to play, shot through with tricky rhythmic figures that must interlock precisely among the parts. (That Scherzo, a mikrokosmos teeming with busy little rhythmic organisms, must have been especially hard to put together.)

But conceptually, it’s not so hard; these days, we’re accustomed to extensive development of germinal cells of music, as opposed to themes you can whistle. Read Tisdel’s program notes, and you’ll have no problem locating yourself in Bridge’s forms.

Bridge shows a fabulous sonic imagination in this piece, right from the start. A magical sort of Rhine Gold shimmer emanates from a high piano arpeggio. Pedaled into endless resonance, it floats around the strings as they outline the major-third/minor-third motto that permeates the first movement and recurs in the fourth. Jacob knows some trick of touch and pedal that makes a Steinway sound like a celesta, and it was just perfect for bit.

Bridge grows all manner of long, climactic melodies from that original germ, especially in the first and fourth movements. They climb and struggle and fall and rise again in this highly dramatic work. The contents of this score are under pressure, and Prometheans maintained it in the best possible way. They forced or imposed nothing; they drew their energy from the music in a most natural way, with convincing, engrossing and thrilling results.

The players warmed up for Bridge’s intensity with a Mozart charmer, the Divertimento à 3, K. 254, from 1776. This witty entertainment begins with an Allegro charged with considerable momentum, arrested here and there by hesitations between phrases. The Prometheans made wonderfully subtle comedy of these moments, and were otherwise in tune with the spirit of the music. Klabunde played lyrically just on the cusp of schmaltz, perfect for the Adagio. And the threesome had some fun contrasting the polite bits of the closing, dance-like Rondeau with the blustery bits.

The players tripped lightly then bounded boisterously through the first movement of Saint-Saëns’ Trio No. 1, Opus 18. A few wrong-note thorns in the piano thickets did not dampen the joyful abandon of the music.

A primal, bagpipe drone rings in the strings in the second movement, in which a medieval-sounding chant is the main character, and in the third, which seems to be set partly at a medieval village dance. Curious, and charming.

The big, Romantic boil of a finale leads, disarmingly, to the repose of a chorale at the eye of the storm. The players, in firm command all the way, sprung Saint-Saëns’ plot twist with great skill and insight, then rushed back into the maelstrom.

Throughout the concert, Jacob, Tisdel and Klabunde showed unanimous conviction in every phrase along the way to sure, settled interpretations. All three, but Klabunde in particular, played with an ear toward expressive nuance, especially in terms of timbre. Monday’s concert was an inspiring start to the new season and further evidence of a fruitful and deepening partnership.

This program, given at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9.

What are you doing this week? TCD’s Danielle McClune has some ideas for you; check out her On Stage column on our Arts and Culture page.



0 thoughts on “Prometheus Trio: Bridge to Somewhere”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why, thank you, Tom–such a nice review to wake up to!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The trio did the Mozart already beautiful work a great service, sophisticating it with colors only possible to Stewartize on modern instruments, just sublime.

    There is a way talent like this to takes it a step further, and this would be with the intervention of lavish and frequent improvisation during those places that Mozart starts lane-marking in these those types of sections being in modern times revered as elegant and stately withdrawl by Les Amantes de Mozart. Logic dictates that,in keeping with Mozart’s stellar keyboard persona, these perverse, arcanely spinning little measures would have been a signal–even a mandate–to “run with it”.

    It could be argued that there are elements of absolute music in Bridge, but images seem to take over in this one, such as in the beginning, of wind chimes and large gestures of unrest in the curtains, declaring at this time that what would follow was to be be firmly tonal throughout which it was, though emulating at regular intervals a certain grinding Russian composer at private odds with the Soviets. The contrast between jazz-like, almost demonic ecstasy sections and the day-job excursions into harshness, I was reminded of a solo dance performance in the past year at “Present Music”, this of of angular, unnatural movements during the day and relaxed, gratifying movements at night and/or in dreams–dreams had been the intent, I believe. In the Bridge, there is not doubt that the sensual areas are occurring during wakefulness, but that wakefulness might be a ritual of some sort in a trance-like condition not unlike “The Entrance of The Woman” in Scriabin’s opus 74 No 2.

    The Saint-Saens revealed a smoky hot-ashes quality–the kind of dusty thing that happens to metal implements after tending the fire–it took on weights that in our imaginations seem to place the work into indefinite opus positioning, no less than fully masterful.

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