Most of us, when we contemplate a beautiful work of art, are content to leave it at that - contemplation.
Others, like the art students you see with their easels in museums, try to re-create the object, not just for educational and training benefits, but as a way to experience something of the original artist's creative process.
Then there are those who go one step further and put themselves deeply into the work, use it as a starting point for fashioning a new artistic creation. Composer Steven Burke did this in a recent piece called Altars, which pays homage to well-known piano trios by Beethoven, Schubert and Ravel by incorporating themes from each. But the score, given a dynamic performance Tuesday night by the Peabody Trio, doesn't quite get beyond the level of an all-too-obviously flawed reproduction of a masterpiece - three masterpieces, in this case.
It's all neatly crafted and sincere, to be sure. But the alternately literal and frenzied treatment of snippets from the old works, along with Burke's own, not exactly riveting, ideas makes for more musical action than musical substance. Still, it provided a good excuse for the ensemble, appearing in Peabody Institute's Griswold Hall, to fill out the program with two of Burke's sources - Beethoven's Ghost Trio and Ravel's only work for violin, cello and piano.
The Peabody Trio, long a resident faculty ensemble at the conservatory it's named for, played both of those works with exceptional expressive thrust.
The musicians - violinist Violaine Melancon, cellist Natasha Brofsky, pianist Seth Knopp - managed to keep Beethoven's expansive trio from losing its tension. Phrases, even in the long, slow second movement, nearly crackled with an underlying energy. This was boldly etched Beethoven, made bolder still by the in-your-face acoustics of the intimate hall.
Ravel's prismatic Trio came in for a similarly bracing interpretation. There was no wallowing in the music's pastel moments, but a vigorous exploration of the propulsive, heated elements. Here and there, a slightly gritty sound crept into the strings but did not seem out of place in a performance that effectively emphasized drama over abstract beauty.