Prometheus Trio closes season with flair
The Prometheus plays sparkling trios by Turina, Beethoven and Mendelssohn.
A musical sunrise opened the Prometheus Trio’s Monday evening concert at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, as pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Timothy Klabunde and cellist Scott Tisdel played Joaquin Turina‘s elegant fantasia, Circulo.
It progresses – in circular fashion – from dawn to dusk. An especially programmatic dawn rumbles low in the cello, then rises as a slow melody from the violin. Gentle commentary from the piano marks the first light.
Violin and cello shared a choral hymn before the dramatic chords of daybreak. We stared into the rising sun as chords introduced a morning hymn and loud trills in the piano signaled the start of day.
Mid-day was more celebratory, as Turina introduced a bit of Spanish flamenco. The trio let the rhythm build gradually within the section.
Drama returned in the evening. Themes returned with more intensity. Dance elements remained a part of the development, as a lilting theme repeated noisily, then softly, then more slowly. The music faded in transition to a return to the first sign of morning light, and a lovely pairing of violin and cello in high registers.
Circulo, written in 1936, derives more from Debussy and traditional Andalusian themes rather than contemporaneous modernism. This short work, with an optimistic, irresistible repeating melody, served as a great curtain raiser.
Beethoven’s familiar Opus 1, No. 1, followed, with its oft-repeated surging motif in the piano. The Prometheus offered a restrained version of this movement, with fewer fireworks and drama than other interpretations. The coda, with embroidered piano elements, seemed more like Mozart than later Beethoven – a reasonable choice for an early Beethoven work.
The second movement, Rondo, featured a lyrical melody introduced by the violin then passed among the players. Exchanges and pairing by and between Klabunde and Tisdel were especially lovely. The trio let this movement breathe.
The scherzo is a madcap scamper through a simple motif. Jacob treated the piano material with a light but assertive touch. A brief legato string section broke the pace, but the scherzo returned at an even faster clip to close.
Beethoven’s finales are always ambitious. Klabunde introduced a merry dance and the others took it up in turn. The three started at a fast tempo and stepped up the pace with each variation. The music surged forward, piano arpeggios became more complex. Climatic moments gave way to brief respites before even faster surges. When will it end? Only after the building momentum has met the very edge of the possible. This is especially a workout for Jacob. Three triumphant chords bring the work to a sudden close.
The large first movement has all the energy of a finale. A rising theme in the piano surges forward from the start. The violin takes on the melody with equal energy. A warmer second theme complements and softens the atmosphere. But steady arpeggios from the piano do not let the pace rest long. Tender reflections on the second theme stick with the listener, but the trio is propelled by return to the insistent rising motif.
The adagio cantabile opens with a tender melody in the piano. The trio sings throughout the movement a melody that receives little variation but is lovely on every repetition.
The scherzo, quintessential Mendelssohn, starts fast and seems headed nowhere but faster. This was Midsummer Night’s Dream on steroids. Light, scampering strings were matched by a piano part that demands cleanly articulated notes. A descending second theme appeared a bit more aggressive than the light treatment of the first, but the pace quickened further. Jacob added not only speed, but also emphasis. The strings were able to skate their bows to keep up, but the piano got another workout.
The finale opened with a melody in the cello, developed by all until violin and piano introduced a gentler second theme. The two themes would be sufficient for the movement, but Mendelssohn breaks into the development by introducing a chorale taken from a Lutheran hymn (traced to a 1551 Geneva Psalter, according to one source.) This bright theme took the finale to another level. Extensive development followed. The lyrical second theme returned many times. Jacob’s complex piano part drove the trio forward to a dynamic conclusion.
The evening’s encore featured Jacob’s transcription of a piano work by Mendelssohn, Song Without Words, Opus 38, No. 6, in A-flat. The work is known as the “Duetto” because the piano composition incorporates two voices rather than one. Jacob assigned the voices to violin and cello, retained the decorative arpeggio elements for the piano, and occasionally joined the strings in unison. After the drama of Mendelssohn’s piano trio, this song brought us back to earth — and allowed Jacob to cool down after the frantic pace of the prior work.
The Prometheus Trio will repeat this program Tuesday evening, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Tickets can be purchased online at the conservatory website or by calling 414 276-5760, or a the door. Valet parking service is available for $10. Complimentary parking is available at Milwaukee Eye Care, 1684 N. Prospect Ave., located one block north of the Conservatory.