IN: Reviews

Horszowski Trio’s Mixed Isolation

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Morton Feldman’s “beauty of a lone voice” and John Cage’s “stripped-down energy” from a toy piano met oddly side by side with Grieg and Schumann piano trios, as the Horszowski Trio again pursued a COVID theme, “In the Face of Isolation II,” at Longy School of Music Friday night.

Explicating their theme, “Grieg composed in an isolated cottage,” and Schumann “suffered from a mental illness, the pain he felt was powerful, but he was able to channel it and bring us into his own world of fantasy and emotion.”

How did this thematic thinking by the Trio ultimately work out in Pickman Hall? Two shows in one. Slotted in between break out renderings of the Europeans came a meditative offering of the 20th century avant-garde Americans, as Longy’s lights dimmed. A year ago the Horszowski Trio, in residence at the school, had tendered one of Feldman’s two-hour pieces for their “Isolation I” concert.

Grieg’s Andante Con Moto in C Minor for Piano Trio (1878) was discovered posthumously by Grieg’s close friend, Julius Röntgen who wrote: “How he can’t get enough of that single theme…” Others have described the late work as abstemious or ascetic. Wouldn’t these observations be more pertinent than an account of the composer’s working alone in a small house? Disconcertingly, Horszowski Trio redirected the Andante con moto along sharp-edged, quick-tempered lines. Dramatized contrasts morphed a bit too blatantly throughout.  

Longy’s spotlights then focused alternately on the players. Etude no. 5 for solo piano “Rain At Funeral–Homage to Morton Feldman” (2005), a late addition to the concert, ran at odds with the meditative design of the middle portion. Pianist Rieko Aizawa accentuated both the low-chiming chords and searing treble tones.

While Aizawa played, the violinist and cellist remained on stage at either side of the Steinway and a toy piano. Ole Akahoshi opened Feldman’s Projection 1 for solo cello (1950) with an attention prompting plucked note. An array of delicate sounds—75—followed, each with its requisite silence. Jesse Mills continued in a similar disposition with For Aaron Copland for solo violin (1981). The homage spoke with more softness and a bit more linearity. Surprisingly, an expressive albeit tiny melody materialized midway among the 100 individual sounds.

During the silences, the 30-plus socially distanced listeners, aside for a single muffled cough, were pin-drop-quiet.

Latest configuration (Thanks to Photoshop)

Tiny bell-like sounds issued forth in Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano (1948). Aizawa starred in her limited role. She zoned in with finely tailored phrases, crisped repeating keys, and a toy-like expressiveness that endeared.

A jarring shift from America back to Europe brought Schumann’s Piano Trio no. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63 (1847). Could the trio have offered that work, as well as Grieg’s, in some manner which better reinforced their theme? Reviews of the ensemble point out its power and its accomplishments. Still young, the ensemble has time to develop further and mature. While technical refinement and plenteousness of emotive engagement obtained throughout, the group mostly missed the big picture. It wasn’t that the Trio overstepped Schumann’s directions for the first movement Mit Energie und Leidenschaft. Rather, they seemed insensitive to how both Schumann and Grieg structured their work around harmony. That dimension offers abundant clues for elucidation. For the less complex second and fourth movements, it became more apparent that the players diverged, often in indirect or nuanced ways, from one another’s voicings.

The handout explained that the group “…takes its inspiration from the musicianship, integrity, and humanity of the preeminent pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski” (1892-1993); the ensemble’s pianist, Rieko Aizawa, was Horszowski’s last pupil at the Curtis Institute.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).  www.notescape.net

5 Comments »

5 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Dear Mr. Patterson,

    I disagree. I was present at last night’s concert, and The Horszowski Trio was outstanding throughout. I have performed the Schumann myself, and I have an intimate knowledge of the score. The trio’s sensitivity to the details AND to the whole picture of this work was clear. I normally do not write comments, but I feel I must set the record straight. I enjoyed the drama, contrast, and good taste that the trio brought to their reading of the Grieg as well.

    The Horszowski Trio touched me and my colleagues who were also in attendance, and I find it offensive that you would imply that they need to “mature.” This was the performance of a seasoned and informed ensemble.

    By the way, Mr. Patterson, your own photoshopping of their publicity photo doesn’t seem like the most tasteful and professional thing to do!

    Comment by Chris Andersen — September 25, 2021 at 11:15 pm

  2. I added the face of the new cellist to the older group shot with some light humor intended. Photoshopping is perfectly legitimate when acknowledged. (the publisher)

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — September 26, 2021 at 7:44 pm

  3. I also find your review off the mark. I attended this concert as well, one of the most memorable evenings in a LONG while!  The Horszowski Trio is a world class trio, their performance was spectacular. The program had a great flow with such a wonderful, interesting concept! I have seen this group a few times now, and this was not the first time that I have been blown away by their unusually colorful, elegant and intelligent playing. I don’t know what you are listening to, Mr. Patterson — you are clearly missing something.

    As for the photo comment, I also agree that it’s not the most tasteful act. We can have fun photoshopping our own faces, but have some respect for the artists and also the photographer!

    I.U.

    Comment by Isabel Underwood — September 26, 2021 at 9:42 pm

  4. This review is extremely questionable. Their performance of Schumann was extraordinary with so much depth, elegance and nuances. I own their complete Schumann Trios CD on AVIE records and I came to this live concert to hear them play with their new cellist this repertoire live. All three musicians’ individual playing is outstanding, but they also created an amazing group sound, layers of texture with subtlety and clarity. Also, their ensemble is impeccable even in this complex music.

    Whatever David Patterson is trying to criticize here makes little sense. It’s sad that this critic doesn’t get it, that he missed so much about what the Horszowski Trio delivered. Their Grieg was thoughtful and moving as well. The whole concert was simply fantastic. Boston is lucky to have the opportunity to hear the Horszowski Trio so often.

    I do agree with other the comments about the photo. I don’t find it funny at all with this particular kind of photoshop. Why not use their new official publicity photo? I have seen it many times.

    Comment by Peter Goldberg — September 28, 2021 at 11:24 am

  5. This review made me curious about Grieg’s early compositions (he bought the beautiful Victorian house at Troldhaugen in 1885, after this string trio was composed). I’d like to recommend the excellent 2006 book by Daniel M. Grimley, who teaches at Oxford = Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Identity (Boydell & Brewer).

    Comment by Laura Prichard — September 30, 2021 at 9:50 am

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