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April 13, 1999

The Vienna Piano Trio -- Graceful Precision is Right On

A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

On Sunday, March 28, The Vienna Piano Trio closed out the stellar season of the Mobile Chamber Music Society. This has to be the most professional, highest caliber group of performances anywhere on the coast from New Orleans to Tampa. The group from Vienna proved that again to no less than three standing ovations, and ended the season with the musicality and virtuosity that puts other musicians and music lovers in sheer bliss.

They come with credentials, too -- the Trio won numerous awards in Europe and the US, and was chosen by Isaac Stern as one of 6 ensembles in the world to perform at a Carnegie Hall chamber workshop. Called "the revelation of the 1995 Festival, [they were] also one of the wonderful discoveries of the Quebec musical scene in recent seasons," Le Soleil, Quebec, and that is typical among many other exquisite descriptions of their playing from all over.

Their performance at Blenheim Hall was as intense and musical as any in Carnegie Hall, New York or the Musikverein in Vienna. There seems to be something about musicians trained in Vienna that is different from those trained in Russia or Berlin. (In the US, they are likely to have teachers from these countries.) The Viennese have an intense graciousness which is delicate, yet strong, silk with steel underpinnings. Absolute technical prowess is gloved in grace. These three young men were keepers of the tradition.

The program began with Haydn and ended with Beethoven -- giants of chamber music and of the Viennese school. But they also included a work by Alfred Schnittke -- the second of his works we have heard this season.

The Haydn was especially notable for its controlled excitement -- Stefan Mendl made the runs and Alberti basses into a finely textured cloth for Wolfgang Redik and Marcus Trefny to weave the violin and cello threads of theme. And they tossed off the concluding presto with its syncopations at lightning speed with delicate brilliance.

The 1992 Piano Trio by Alfred Schnittke was originally premiered in Moscow by Oleh Krysa playing the violin -- remembered from the December concert by the Ukrainian Duo on this same stage. At that time Krysa sailed through a technical arena of challenges in a virtuoso performance of Schnittke's A Paganini which had been composed and dedicated to him. The Vienna Trio was equally at home in the expanded tonalities and timbres of this composer. Using double and triple stops, the two strings alone often sounded like a small orchestra. This music is filled with great distances and great angst -- by cries and conflict of strong wills, and then whispers and haunting echoes from a remote void. The program notes (well written) described the tonal triads like shafts of light into the atonal environment. This is a work of shadings and textures where dissonance is no longer uncomfortable, and where listeners who "don't like 12 tone" find themselves fascinated by the continuous unfolding of sound.

The Archduke Trio filled the second half and the hall with the sheer brilliance of the one composer most people relate to -- Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven can be played by mediocre performers and still be fulfilling, but in the hands of artists such as these, you suddenly discover nuances not heard before. Here the sheer ensemble between the three men was especially noticeable -- the luftpause or that slight breath at the height of a phrase made you think they were literally breathing together, the sudden rubatos and the sudden hushed backing away at times seemed as if the music was an entity coming from one mind in three bodies. Their timing on phrase endings was uncanny! And phrase repetitions were never repetitious; instead they became dialogues sometimes serious, sometimes tongue in cheek, teasing and tossing motives back to the sender.

The audience's uproarious applause produced a mesmerizing slow movement from Schubert's Second Piano Trio. Thank you Mobile Chamber Music Society for a musical season of elegance and high professional standards rare indeed.

The Harbinger, P.O. Box U-980, Mobile, AL 36688-0001