Shriver acoustics, harsh playing weaken trio

January 12, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Bedrich Smetana's Piano Trio in G minor, which was inspired by the death of the composer's 4-year-old daughter, is one of the stupendous outbursts of grief in music. It begins with a tragic utterance on the violin and moves with the utmost urgency through material heart-piercing and heroic by turns.

This is a work that demands players with an abundance of technique and temperament. It was, therefore, something of a surprise that the Bachmann-Klibonoff-Fridman Trio's performance Saturday night in the Shriver Hall Concert Series was not more successful.

Past appearances in Baltimore, not only as chamber music players but also as soloists, suggested that violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Semyon Fridman and pianist Jon Klibonoff appeared to have exactly the requisites for this music.

Some of what went wrong was the musicians' responsibility. There were occasions when they did not seem in control of their instruments and others when they did not seem in control of the music.

In Nathan Perelman's book of aphorisms, "Autumn Notes," the distinguished Russian piano teacher writes that one should not sing when playing the piano, but make the piano sing. In a similar vein, one could remark that what music filled with grief requires is the expression of that emotion on instruments rather than in the players themselves.

Much of the heat and sound generated on the stage in the Bachmann-Klibonoff-Fridman performance of the Smetana did not serve the music. The second movement, which is marked "Allegro" (or "fast"), would have sounded better, for example, had not the players so conspicuously ignored the cautionary "ma non agitato" ("but not agitated").

If the performance often sounded harsh, that was not entirely the players' fault.

It's a pity that Baltimore's most important chamber music series takes place in this hall. Shriver Hall is acoustically "dry." That means that sounds die quickly after they occur, thus depriving the listener of the sense of fullness and richness that comes in a more reverberant space.

Shriver's dry clarity was less inimical to Beethoven's G major (Opus 1, No. 2) and Mendelssohn's C minor (Opus 66) trios, which have more transparent textures than those of the Smetana and which thrived in the Bachmann-Klibonoff-Fridman performances. The high-spirited raucousness of the young Beethoven received its due, with the final presto taken at a most impressive (and appropriate) lightning-like tempo. The performance of the Mendelssohn sounded even better: ardent in its opening movement; hushed and refined in the second; elfin light in the third; and heroic and passionate at the close.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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