Few concertgoers get to experience music up close and fresh as performers do: immensely exciting when things click, sometimes limited in ultimate polish. Local pianist Natalie Erlich, now a Tufts Med School student, had a sliver of time available recently and wanted to hit it, as the performing phrase goes, so she called on old cellist colleague Mikiko Fujiwara and new violinist pal Yeolim Nam. They chartered Harvard Yard’s Holden Chapel Sunday afternoon to offer up two of the bigger piano trios, Beethoven’s Archduke (Op. 97, begun 1810, the composer 39) and Mendelssohn’s D-Minor (No. 1, Op. 49, 1839, the composer 30).
It would be cool to report that their presentation was rough ’n’ ready and terrifically exciting. But the former it was not at all, and as for the latter, well, sure, yet more: the new group, calling itself the Beacon Street Trio, knocked the two large and serious pieces out of the Yard. Bam. One reviewer in the small audience felt it was as good an Archduke as he had ever heard. The first movement, with those melodies and melodic fragments the 13-year-old Schubert surely studied, just sang forth, and Beethoven’s writing only gets more potent from there on out.
Erlich’s playing summons unimaginative adjectives but exceeds their totality. She presents as highly dependable—regular, sensitive yet unaffected, very strong technically and rhythmically. Everything has shape and point and real power, lightness and heaviness outstandingly gauged. Her website has many chamber and solo performance examples, including superior Bach and the best Brahms Sonata No. 3 I know, particularly the first two movements. I single Erlich out not because she dominated these trios but because my knowing her from her website examples beaconed me to sweat my way to the concert in the first place. Even when tempos were a little too fast, Erlich settled in to nail the passages, every time. Violinist Nam (a former Malcolm Lowe student now getting her doctorate at Stony Brook) projected her lines piercingly throughout, piercing in the very best sense. Some cello fumbles at the end of the Archduke made me worry about how the Mendelssohn might go, since much of the time it seems to be a cello trio with piano and violin, and rather more serious-sounding than other popular Mendelssohn. Fujiwara, who like Erlich works outside music, fully rose to the moment, however, with commanding authority, aplomb, and delicacy in the afternoon’s second great read.
Ancient, small, and acoustically unpromising, Holden Chapel is a high and bright and clattery space, not suitable for worship. (The program informed us that long ago it was the home of Harvard Med, and one round of renovations unearthed ‘anatomized corpses’ in the basement; the year the Archduke was written, HMS moved out of Holden across the Charles.) There was a whiteboard with a staff off to the side; I hoped we might get a lec-dem too. Erlich’s instrument was a Mason&Hamlin baby grand, well-tuned but raucous in the treble, deficient in the murky bass, and described by at least one person present in profane terms. She said afterward that she had learned the difficult Mendelssohn (we sometimes forget what a superior keyboard virtuoso he was) only in the last few weeks; violinist Nam did the same in under a week and a half.
Brava, all; may you find time again in the future for such near-impromptu gifts.