Prometheus Performs Rare Repertoire

Brahms and Beethoven, yes, but also Ysaÿe and Boulanger.

By - Oct 13th, 2016 03:29 pm
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The Prometheus Trio opens their 2016-17 season Monday and Tuesday evening at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. The Trio (pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Margot Schwartz and cellist Scott Tisdel) will perform two familiar trios by Beethoven and Brahms as well as two rarely performed works adapted from compositions written first for orchestra.

Ludwig van Beethoven mastered the art of variations – from very short piano works that pack 32 variations into 12 minutes to works that run nearly an hour. His Trio No. 8, Op. 121a “Kakadu Variations” (1816) demonstrates the level of sophistication he achieved. Beginning with a trifle of a popular song – ‘Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu’ (‘I am the Tailor Cockatoo’) from a light opera by Wenzel Müller – Beethoven created a set of variations expressing a wide range of techniques and moods. Critic Richard Wigmore observes that Beethoven was able to “deconstruct rather than merely decorate the theme.”

Beethoven revised the variations late in life, adding an opening that introduces the theme fragments at a time and a closing that restores the original theme but then dissolves with a typically Beethoven flourish. Jacob comments that “Beethoven explores variations in all the expected ways, but especially in the coda. What he does with the harmonies becomes really transcendent.”

Johannes BrahmsPiano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101 (1887) reveals all of the qualities of mature Brahms. After introducing a motive that serves as an element in all movements, he introduces a beautiful lyrical song as a second theme. Jacob reveals her love of Brahms. At the second theme, she says, “I have written in my music the word ‘Parthenon’ – because it is timeles, it’s glorious, you can’t imagine it not being there.” Muted strings define a skittish second movement. The third movement features a lovely lullaby and a tender dialog between the strings and piano.  Jacob describes how the final movement “begins warlike, but a great transformation occurs toward the end. The movement ends happily. That’s a nice way to finish even if it doesn’t necessarily go with the rest of the piece.”

Nadia Boulanger achieved fame as the master teacher of contemporary musicians from George Gershwin to Philip Glass at the American School at Fontainebleau. Her sister Lili Boulanger seemed to be the more promising composer. In ill health for most of her short life, Lili Boulanger wrote works that reveal a unique sound inspired by Claude Debussy. Written shortly before her death at 24, Pièces en Trio (1917-18) brings together two short pieces that use the same introductory theme, but vary the mood, pace and rhythm. Of the somber D’un soir triste (“Of a sad evening”), critic Sylvia Typaldos  observes. “Lili had known sadness and illness all of her life, but in this piece, it seems as if the futility of it all has finally been deeply felt inside of her and projected in the work.” The shorter lively reflection D’un matin de printemps (“Of a spring morning”) brightens the mood. The intimate and inner beauty of the pair work well for piano trio. Although Jacob comments that at Boulanger’s young age she had “perhaps an unrealistic idea about how many fingers the pianist has.” The work is “very challenging” she notes, but “completely worth the effort.”

Unlike many other chamber groups, Prometheus seeks out works unknown to most of us. Conductor and solo violinist Eugène Ysaÿe may be recognized for a set of violin sonatas patterned after Bach. His Poème Nocturne, Op. 29 (1927) is not available for preview on YouTube. This composition began as a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. Given that the concerto version also can not be found on YouTube, it’s clear how rare a performance this will be. Jacob suggests that the work is similar to one by  Ernest Chausson (1855 – 1899), the Poème, Op.25 for violin and orchestra. She finds the work “dark and angst ridden and absolutely glorious – with really spectacular writing for the strings.”

The Prometheus Trio will perform on two days – Monday, October 17th and Tuesday, October 18th at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music on 1584 N. Prospect Avenue. For ticket information see the WCM website or call (414) 276-5760. Additional evening parking is available at Milwaukee Eye Care, 1684 N Prospect Avenue (at Brady St).

On December 5 & 6, the Trio will be joined by guest violist Wendy Richman for a piano quartet by Fauré. Trios by Haydn and Dohnanyi will also be featured.

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