Peabody Trio - with a twist

Duo and quartet smoothly render Janacek and Bartok


October 03, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Music has been flowing with considerable intensity - just as it should be, of course - at the Peabody Institute.

Extraordinary chamber music-making came Wednesday night from the Peabody Trio, which was anything but - a trio, that is. Instead, members of this resident faculty ensemble subdivided into duos on the first half of the program and expanded into a quartet for the second.

Janacek's Pohadka is a "fairy tale" for cello and piano steeped in Czech folk idioms, synthesized through the composer's brilliant, seemingly improvisational style. Cellist Natasha Brofsky's gorgeous tone, supple phrasing and sure technique proved ideal for unleashing the score's exotic beauty. Seth Knopp was a model of pianistic refinement and color.

He proved no less effective partnering Violaine Melancon in a deeply considered performance of Bartok's Violin Sonata No. 1. With this score, the composer inched remarkably close to the revolutionary world of 12-tone music; the diffuse melodic direction and thorny harmony of the first movement, in particular, take the listener far from traditional comforts.

Throughout the long work, Bartok keeps stretching, but never really departs terra firma; even at its most abstract, the sonata has an earthy solidity. And when, in the finale, Hungarian folk dances erupt, we're definitely on familiar ground. Not that things get any simpler musically; that gutsy finale is full of technical traps.

Melancon and Knopp met those challenges with an almost uncanny level of calm confidence as they explored the music's intricacies and, above all, its expressive potential. The violinist's extended solos in the second movement were wonderfully soulful. She and the pianist did downright incendiary work in the closing dance riot.

Violist Maria Lambros, a fellow Peabody faculty member, joined the trio for a penetrating account of Brahms' C minor Piano Quartet. The piece finds the composer at his moodiest; clouds seem to gather at every turn. But there is potent lyricism here, full of yearning and disappointment, and it all emerged tellingly in the well-blended performance. Melancon and Lambros contributed an extra degree of tonal sweetness along the way.

I also caught the first half of Tuesday night's concert by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, which responded snappily to assistant conductor Carolyn Kuan's precise direction in Richard Danielpour's Vox Populi. With its pushy beat and bright, pop-music chords, the score certainly captures the voice of the people. A fun piece, a fun performance.

Cellist Amit Peled, a new, starry, twentysomething addition to the faculty, took the spotlight for Elgar's Cello Concerto. This is a work about feeling, not show; there are hardly any passages calling for great virtuosity. But the enveloping sound that poured from Peled's cello in the tense first movement and almost tragic third was, in its own way, quite virtuosic, as was the rich character of his phrase-molding that, throughout, touched the concerto's emotional heart.

The orchestra's music director, Hajime Teri Murai, offered smooth support from the podium and had the young ensemble responding not just carefully, but with commitment.

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