Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, August 6, 2008:Part Two

2 PM, Wednesday, August 6, Ottawa Chamberfest ’08.

Beethoven’s sparkling “Sonata for Piano and Violin in E-flat major, Op. 12, No.3” is among the first of this genre Beethoven wrote in 1799 at the age of 27. It is dedicated to his ‘professor’ Antonio Salieri, and is full of Beethoven’s originality. Duo Concertante’s Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves played it transparently, with ease, allowing the lyric elements of the piece unhindered flow. I was especially touched by the expressive Adagio second movement, and the richly energetic surge of the final movement that brought the audience to its feet.

The next work maintained the effervescent mood and even raised it a notch or two. This triple tour de force of originality entitled “Late in a slow time” offered five really good poems by Governor General’s Award Nominee Carole Glasser Langille set to music by Chan Ka Nin (1949-), sung by the charismatic soprano Caroline Schiller backed by Duo Concertante.

The photo on the left [click on the photo to see an enlarged image] shows Ms. Schiller’s dramatic recitation of the first of five pieces. It begins with these words: “In Vermeer’s paintings, / we look through half-opened doors/ to distant rooms, anticipating/ illumination.” Ms. Langille’s language is immediately convincing. It is the real stuff that takes you into her ‘private room’. Chan Ka Nin’s music is appropriate and beautiful. [To see an image of the poet and the composer enjoying an ovation, please click HERE].

After intermission the young and all female quartet–Made in Canada–(with Ben Bowman sitting in for Judy Kang) continued the afternoon’s experience of great satisfaction with the “Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25”, the first and the most popular of the three quartets for piano and strings written by Johannes Brahms during the 1860’s. This work earned Brahms the label “Beethoven’s heir.” This afternoon’s group of players named after a label did justice to the expansive, wistful, expressive, and boisterous gypsy qualities of this music that ended the afternoon’s concert like a charm.

The evening is a classical feast given by the Vienna Piano Trio playing trios by Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert. This is the third year I have heard Vienna’s well-honed ensemble at Chamberfest, and it never fails that their playing is full of energy, anticipation and excitement, like young players, while also displaying the polish and power of long acquaintance. One has learned to expect detail balanced with expressive purpose, free of any mannerism, music-making that breathes the beauty of the moment.

Haydn’s “Piano Trio in G major, Hob. 25” is balanced in spreading responsibilities among piano and strings. The Vienna makes the most of the colourful final Rondo, keeping it lucid, allowing the grace and lightness of Haydn to show through while allowing the flamboyant gypsy themes to whip up the audience.

Pianist Stefan Mendl opened Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in E flat major, Op.1, No. 1″ with a virtuosically brilliant roman candle of chords before the ensemble settled into a quiet, step-wise exchange of views on the three repeated notes that make up the second subject. The players enliven the Adagio with a spread of harmonic and rhythmic surprises. In the Scherzo, Mendl again speeds like a thoroughbred among the long and subtle lines woven with melting beauty by violinist Redik and cellist Grindler. The finale balances irresistible good humour with a finely calibrated building of sound that conveys, more than anything, a sense of ‘no worries.’ The charm of Vienna.

Schubert’s “Trio No.1 in B flat major, Op. Post. 99, D. 898”, never performed in his lifetime, opens with Redik on violin playing a dignified theme that is answered by a rhythmically tense swaggering figure from the piano. There follows a lovely singing melody up in the higher range of Grindler’s cello. The final coda, is short and quiet, but ends abruptly with two loud chords. In their playing here, the Vienna Piano Trio encapsulate the definitive sense of the balance between effortless lyricism and dramatic surprise that is the essence of Schubert, a composer who knew how to love the fragrance of the flower that blooms in the morning and fades by noon. This posthumous opus, like this wonderful day of music, came to a vivacious close on this joyful note.

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