A Keene New Hampshire synagogue, vaguely reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, stood in for the expected white New England Meeting House Wednesday night as the Horszowski Trio played in Congregation Ahavas Achim (brotherly love), a lofty, square, tentlike space with wrap-around windows, massive beams, informal seating, and a warm, intimate acoustic. Electric Earth Concerts’ season continues with eight more performances planned by the co-artistic directors Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert. The EEC calendar is here.
What set this concert apart from the more usual summer festival fare was the presence of composer Joan Tower for a performance of her For Daniel. Tower told us how her piano trio, which was also “about breathing,” encapsulated the rage, decline and death of her beloved nephew through a 10-year lung disease, though elsewhere she has been quoted that the rage was more hers than her nephew’s.
Commissioned by Arizona Friends of Music and premiered by Kalichstein, Laredo, Robinson Trio in 2004, For Daniel opened with emphatic wailing strokes from the cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, and violinist Jesse Mills. The intervals of seconds and minor thirds immediately set the tone of angst, which also seemed somewhat Hebraic and appropriate to the space. Pianist Rieko Aizawa came in with bold octaves which morphed into watery arpeggios. Despite the muddy and inadequate baby Steinway, she managed to convey a menace somewhat akin to “Death and the Maiden.” The cello and violin returned for a mortal struggle, becoming more and more heated before giving way to an intense and soulful cello solo of mourning, which, in the sanctuary, evoked a Kaddish. The violin’s pointed harmonics over murmurings from the piano progressed to a dramatic cadenza of rage in which Aizawa seemed to be battling her instrument as much as Daniel contested his disease. A final furioso struggle yielded to a Berliozian gallop to the gallows.
The concert opened with a very engaged account of Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 39 in G Major, Hob. XV:25, “Gypsy.” Jesse Mills’s violin produced a sweetness of tone and unbroken legato of line. This being Haydn, the cellist had less to say. And even for Haydn, the small piano was unable to project more than a schematic of pianist Aizawa’s apparently romantic vision. The andante was played with lively and witty variety, great fluidity and rippling sonorities. And of course the piece ends with a beloved Rondo à l’Ongarese: Presto, here delivered with enough gypsy passion to revive Carmen.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50, In memory of a great artist, was completed in 1882, and dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein. The composer’s feelings toward his mentor had certainly improved since their encounter seven years earlier in which Rubinstein had angrily dismissed Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto and refused to play the premiere. The first movement, at nearly 20 minutes, has enough variety and material to stand alone, and the thirteen variation movements which follow add another highly entertaining half an hour.
The Horszowski Trio’s performance was emphatic and broadly passionate, particularly Ramakrishnan, who conveyed great pathos, generosity, nuance and variety of tone. Mills performed in a grand manner, with a juicy, bright tone. Aizawa was always alert, dramatic and engaged, though also always hampered by her instrument; her mazurka was as Chopinesque as possible considering her instrumental handicap. The waltz variation had a fine lilt.
After the very sad and highly inflected restatement of the big tune by the cello and violin in the final Lugubre, the pianist’s funereal tolling sounded toylike and anticlimactic. But I would not hesitate to hear this splendid threesome again—especially in a room with a better piano.