Music with romantic, spiritual energy

Review: The Peabody Trio displayed deep, melodic eloquence in its Beethoven/ Brahms performance.

April 05, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Peabody Trio presented a persuasive argument Tuesday night for considering Beethoven the first of the musical romantics, rather than the last of the classicists, or some evolutionary oddity in between.

Such distinctions are not a big deal to most listeners, of course; musicologists are the ones who enjoy arguing about where Beethoven really fits into the grand scheme of musical development. And there's really no compelling need to take a side. But a concert like this one at Friedberg Concert Hall can generate some fresh thoughts about the man and his music.

Beethoven was stretching himself, as he was apt to do, with his Piano Trio in B-flat, nicknamed the "Archduke." In terms of length alone, the work declares its weightiness; the extraordinarily expressive character of its melodic material adds to the impression of something truly grand. The most compelling feature of that melodic material is lyricism, heard right at the start with an eloquently flowing theme and reinforced by the hushed beauty of the third movement.

For all of its outgoing, playful moments, the "Archduke" really strikes home when its deeply personal poetry rises to the fore. If played with a lot of reserve, that poetry doesn't necessarily rise, and the score sounds as if its roots are clearly planted in the 18th century. The Peabody Trio's deeply felt approach made it possible to hear the "Archduke" as an older musical cousin - no more than once-removed - to Brahms' B major Trio, which took up the second half of the program. (Even in terms of structural organization, these two trios are closely related.)

There was a dark, Brahmsian feel to the Beethoven performance. The singing tone of cellist Natasha Brofsky, in her first season with the group, proved particularly effective.

Violinist Violaine Melancon had an occasional loss of pitch, and pianist Seth Knopp an occasional loss of notes, but both communicated the heart of the work tellingly. The exquisite third movement found all three players on the same, intense wavelength, giving the music a spiritual dimension.

Spirituality emerged, too, in the Brahms trio. There was certainly plenty of force when needed (the finale had a strong, arresting drive), but the Peabody members articulated and shaped rich, lyrical passages with extra sensitivity. Brofsky was again a vivid asset; Melancon matched her for stylish phrasing; Knopp offered a combination of tenderness and impressive bravura.

For an encore, the ensemble performed the gentle, slightly melancholy "Duett" movement of Schumann's "Phantasiestucke" - reiterating the romantic theme of the evening.

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