in: Reviews

July 25, 2016

To Clang or Not To Clang?

by

Latitude 41 (file photo)

Latitude 41 (file photo)

Last week’s Maverick Concert elicited my complaint about the clangy tonal quality produced by pianist Reiko Aizawa of the Horszowski Trio. On Sunday, July 24th, hearing the clangy tonal quality produced by pianist Bernadene Blaha of the trio Latitude 41, I was beginning to wonder if the piano might be to blame. But Blaha herself disproved that theory.

The program opened with the most familiar of Haydn’s Trios, No. 39, in G, known as the “Gypsy” for its finale, labeled by Haydn “Rondo all’Ongarese,” “Gypsy Rondo.” There are literally dozens of other Haydn Trios and most of them are equally worthwhile, but this one is the greatest hit and Latitude 41 played it quite well. Cellist Luigi Piovano sang out his part enthusiastically enough so that it didn’t–as usual–disappear into the texture, and the balance with violinist Livia Sohn and Blaha was consistently fine. They indulged in some eccentric tempo modifications in the Rondo’s episodes which I didn’t love, but they didn’t spoil the performance overall. What did bring it down a sizeable notch in my estimation was the edgy sound Blaha often produced with not-very-good pianistic manners.

Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1, in C Minor, Op. 8, is a one-movement piece of juvenilia written when the composer was 16. He never approved it for publication and frankly I think he was right. Sure, it’s impressive for a 16-year-old to come up with such interesting ideas but at that stage all he could do was cobble them together into an intriguing pastiche, completely lacking the organizational genius he showed three years later in his Symphony No. 1. I suppose the performance was good enough but it didn’t make me care about the music and Blaha continued to make unpleasant sounds in the upper register of the piano.

Something happened after intermission to mellow out Blaha’s sound? Was it the romantic repertoire? I’m very familiar with Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 2, in C Minor, Op. 66—more so than most concert-goers, since it was a favorite of my mother’s—and I doubt I’ve heard a better performance of this piece anywhere. Latitude 41 caught the mood superbly: the first movement was very sensitive, the second extremely lovely. The typically Mendelssohnian Scherzo went like the wind, and the finale was indeed “appassionato” as the composer indicated. And the piano sound was gratifyingly beautiful throughout. So, the clang in the first half of this program, and in last week’s, wasn’t the piano’s fault at all. Now I hope I can encourage Blaha to play most everything with Mendelssohn tonal quality.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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