Pro Musica Rara displays intelligence, technique and humor

December 17, 1990|By Robert Haskins

When Ludwig van Beethoven traveled to Vienna in 1792 at the age of 22 to study with Joseph Haydn, he carried with him a rather astonishing prophecy written by his patron, Count Waldstein: "You shall receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hand."

This oft-repeated remark provided the raison d'etre for Pro Musica Rara's illuminating performance of fortepiano trios by the three composers at the Baltimore Museum of Art yesterday.

Fortepianist and Pro Musica Artistic Director Shirley Mathews, violinist Cynthia Roberts and cellist Allen Whear are exemplary participants in the so-called "Early Music" movement.

As first-class musicians, they possess considerable technique, an intelligent approach to the music they perform and -- above all -- an eccentric sense of humor. Together, they deliver performances that make classical music seem a remarkable discovery.

By far, the best playing of the afternoon was their account of Haydn's Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor (Hob. XV:26). Haydn's career began during the early experiments in the Classical style, and a curious but convincing approach to form and harmony pervades even such late works as this piano trio.

The three musicians' performance was characterized by wonderfully bizarre phrasing, a subtle mastery of various shades of tempo and, indeed, an almost perverse exuberance.

By contrast, their performance of Mozart's Piano Trio in C Major (K. 548) seemed stiff. Though the playing was at all times musical, it lacked the glorious, individual personality that had informed the Haydn.

Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat Major, the final work on the program, was his first published work, and already gave ample indication of the young composer's masterful control of instrumental textures generally more complex than those found in Mozart or Haydn.

The Pro Musica Rara's reading of this work reflected the individual artistry of all three musicians. In particular, Ms. Mathews displayed an enviable variety of articulation, and Ms. Roberts a delicate tone.

Humor, of course, is a commodity also abundantly on display in Beethoven's early music. The Pro Musica trio played all of the musical jokes here totally in tempo, as everyday occurrences. Their demeanor, in fact, was positively straight-faced, and a perfect close to an afternoon of marvelous music-making.

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