Maverick had opened its 103rd season with a jazz concert by pianist Kenny Barron on Saturday. Despite evil weather, the concert drew a large audience, filling the hall and half the outside seats. Still, I was expecting some problems for the first classical concert of the season, by Trio con Brio Copenhagen, the following afternoon. The ensemble had played a concert the previous evening at Bard College, a short distance away. This seems like a serious breach of management etiquette, even though the programs were completely different. Also the weather was seriously daunting, very humid with temperature in the mid-90s. Before the concert I was telling friends of an incident I witnessed more than three decades ago, when the Borodin Trio made its Maverick debut in similar weather. As violinist Rostislav Dubinsky played the last note of the first half of the program, the tailpiece came loose from his violin. The concert continued after an unusually long intermission, and I learned that Dubinsky was playing a violin that an audience member happened to have in the trunk of his car. I’ve always wondered if this incident was the reason the Borodin Trio never returned to Maverick.
However, all my negative anticipations were contradicted by the actual event. The audience filled the hall. And although the atmosphere wasn’t exactly comfortable, Maverick’s Big Ass Fans (that’s their actual brand name) did an excellent and noiseless job of making the place comfortable. Add the wonderful strawberry mint lemonade from the refreshment stand and I felt I had a carefree experience at the concert. Except for the program…
No troubles with Per Nørgård’s Spell, composed in 1976. I actually remember hearing this piece on a long-ago LP. It’s a single movement, about 15 minutes long, originally for clarinet trio and later rewritten by the composer for the present ensemble. The composer works with very simple materials, which he uses in what sounds like a sort of obsessive-compulsive method. The technical demands on the musicians are also very simple until near the end of the piece. This may not sound very appealing, but the piece held my attention throughout, certainly due in part to the committed playing of the trio.
Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio (in D, Op. 70, No. 1) is probably his second best-known trio (after the “Archduke”). Actually, all of Beethoven’s mature trios from Op. 1 on show the composer at his best. The challenges of the “Ghost” are considerable, with technical demands on all the instruments and the need for consistently alert and responsive playing. TcB met all these challenges with tremendous success. Although pianist Jens Elvekjaer doesn’t produce the most beautiful tone I’ve ever heard, he was consistently on top of the music, playing out but never swamping the strings. In fact, good balance was a major feature of this performance. So was the vigorous and powerful approach, with accents that were strong enough to satisfy me. I was so taken with this performance that after the concert I bought the ensemble’s first CD of Beethoven Trios, which included this one. I almost never do that!
If I weren’t a responsible reviewer, I might have taken off at intermission, as at least one friend of mine did. I’ve heard the Tchaikovsky Trio in A Minor, Op. 50, several times at Maverick, only when I can’t escape it. I’m not a Tchaikovsky-hater but I’ve never liked this piece and I still don’t. The long first movement, despite some repetitiousness, has enough energy and passion to hold my attention. But the much longer second movement, a set of variations, starts to lose me about halfway through and from there on it’s downhill all the way.
Maverick has a new program annotator, John F. Baker. (The much-esteemed Miriam Villchur Berg died after last season.) In general I thought highly of his notes for this program. But I would certainly take issue with “Tchaikovsky was masterly at variations.” A great variations writer, like Bach or Brahms, uses each variation to transform the original material. Tchaikovsky merely decorates his theme and shoehorns it into different forms like a mazurka or even a fugue. To these ears, the music gets tedious. I will give points to Trio con Brio Copenhagen for its dedication to the music. The technical demands (the piano part is often like a concerto) gave the players no pause, and even in the heat they powered through to the end with no loss of energy or concentrations. If you’ve got to play this piece, that’s the way to do it. And now I hope I never have to hear it again.
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.