Peabody Trio finds glory in 'Archduke'


February 24, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The 100th anniversary of the founding of the Peabody Preparatory was celebrated last night with a concert by the Peabody Trio. I'm happy to report that it was one of those occasions that proved how precious a gift the masterpieces of music are and how invaluable are the institutions that prepare youngsters to perform and appreciate them.

The high-water mark of the concert was a performance of Beethoven's great Trio in B-flat (the "Archduke"), the most regal and muscular work ever written for the piano-violin-cello combination. This was an essentially lyric performance that seemed primarily guided by Seth Knopp's crystalline piano playing, but it created a framework in which the composer's beautiful lines and extraordinary energy were also permitted to sing out on Violaine Melancon's violin and Tanya Tomkins' cello. There were many imaginative touches -- not the least of which was hushed playing at the end of the third movement that made the refrain of the final one seem as inevitable as that the sun should follow the moon.

But the whole performance always reminded a listener that the existence of the "Archduke" is nothing less than a miracle, that it comprehends universes.

This particular piano trio has been in a state of flux for over a year, ever since the resignation of its initial cellist, the superb Bonnie Thron. What criticism can be made of her replacement, Tompkins, is only that she did not always meld with Knopp and Melancon in the performance of the Haydn trio that opened the concert. There were times when her part could not be heard alongside the more dynamic Melancon and Knopp. This may reflect her background playing early and classical music on authentic instruments -- an environment in which the dynamic scale is necessarily much reduced. But she is an exquisite player; all she has to do is to turn up the volume.

The other work on the program was Stephen Coxe's Piano Trio, which was commissioned and written last year by the Peabody Trio from the composer, who grew up in Baltimore and attended the Prep. Anyone who can write a cello line as beautiful as the one in the slow movement of this piece or a perpetual motion motif as animated as the one in the second movement is a talented composer.

But Coxe's talent sank beneath instances of pretentiousness -- these included imitations of the wispy, bird-like utterances of Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" -- and beneath the trio's 40-minute length. There were stretches -- such as the entire first movement -- in which one was unable to detect a single genuine idea.

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