Peabody Trio's luck has turned golden

Music Review

January 18, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The Peabody Trio seemed to be a chamber music ensemble without any any mazel.

Last season -- less than three years after it won the prestigious Naumburg Award -- the trio lost its talented cellist, Bonnie Thron, to a career in medicine. They were able to reconstitute themselves this year with the services of an interim cellist, Kathe Jarka. But early last week Jarka fell victim one of the painful afflictions that seem to affect almost all string players from time to time.

As of last Wednesday, the two remaining Peabody players -- pianist Seth Knopp and violinist Violaine Melancon -- were without a cellist for last night's Shriver Hall Series concert.

The trio's luck has changed. A young cellist named Sungwon Yang -- from Seoul by way of Bloomington, Ind., and Paris -- came to the rescue; and, with less than two days of rehearsal, the trio was able to give a superb concert, putting together three difficult pieces in a manner convincing enough to suggest that these young musicians had been playing together for years.

Yang comes with excellent credentials -- any cellist good enough to be Janos Starker's assistant at Indiana University is world-class -- but that still did not prepare one for the beautiful way he was able to sing out the melody of the slow movement of Schubert's B-flat Trio.

This was a fully integrated performance in which each of the players made a strong contribution. Knopp's piano playing was always imaginative and tonally beguiling, and Melancon made her passionate playing match Yang's in every line and phrase. The interpretation was warm, filled with sentiment and verve.

There were also some imaginative touches -- not the least of which was a second movement taken at a heroically slow tempo that still maintained the music's pulse and disarming simplicity.

The rest of the program consisted of Copland's "Vitebsk" and Faure's Trio in D Minor.

The Faure trio is one of the composer's last works -- he wrote it in 1922 in the year before his death --with subtleties of texture and refinement of feeling that easily elude capture. The members of the Peabody Trio did not make the work totally convincing -- there were moments in the first and last movements when the work seemed overlong -- but they caught the spirit of the last movement magnificently, making a listener feel that the French "tendresse" seemed a more appropriate way to describe their performance than its English equivalent.

Copland's "Vitebsk" (1929) is a peculiar little piece. It takes its name from a Jewish shtetl in what is now Ukraine, and the composer tries to fill it with a sense of what he himself called "Chagall-like grotesquerie." Grotesque maybe. The middle section with its cantorial wail seems tentative -- Shostakovich did this sort of thing much better in his E Minor Trio -- and the rest of it, with its clangorous piano chords and whining string lines, doesn't make much sense and certainly doesn't sound particularly Jewish. But the performance -- particularly Yang's handling of the singing cello line in the central section -- made the strongest case possible for the music.

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