blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The sublime Vienna Trio

They were introduced at their first concert of the week, on Thursday, by the Austrian Ambassador to Canada who said, "Well, they're back!" and everyone present burst into enthusiastic applause. This group of musicians, the Vienna Trio (Wiener Klaviertrio), has been coming to play at Ottawa's chamber music festivals for the past two decades and is therefore known and loved here. David McCarroll, their recently recruited violinst from California, plays a Gagliano violin made in 1761. Matthias Gredler (from München) plays a 1752 Guadagnini 'cello. Stefan Mendl, the pianist, is undoubtedly the boss of the trio, and a very fine job he makes of it, too.

This year, I heard them perform three times, twice at evening concerts and this morning, briefly, at the Music And Beyond Family Day at the University of Ottawa, when they were more casually attired ...

... reprising a movement from the Haydn trio (no. 44) which they had performed on Thursday and then the original version of a movement from one of this week's Brahms trios, as well. Apparently Brahms first wrote this one when he was 21 and in love with Clara Schumann. In his maturity he revised the music. At the Family Day they played us the earlier version.

Several of us had gone to the Thursday concert expecting to hear a different set of pieces, because the souvenir programme had printed their pages in the wrong order. In the event they played Haydn, Ravel, Bridge and Brahms (no. 3), the Ravel Piano Trio of 1914 being one of my all-time favourites, ever since I first came across it as the theme music for one of my favourite films, Un Coeur en Hiver. This is how the music begins:

(the men of the Vienna Trio took it at a slightly slower tempo in their performance) and from there it builds impressionistically to its impassioned finale (animé).

On the second night, at Southminster United Church, Chris sat in the audience with me to hear them play a CPE Bach sonata, Brahms' 2nd piano trio, and, after the intermission, Shostakovich's overwhelming Piano Trio no 2, written and first performed towards the end of the 2nd World War in the Soviet era when Stalin was in power. Chris comments that he has no idea how Shostakovich got it past the censors, because this music is visceral with frantic grief and fury, starting with an etherial lament on high harmonics, played on the 'cello at the top of its range. Right from the start you know you are being taken on a long journey. The violin creeps in at a lower pitch, making it a duet, and then the piano joins in too. What follows may have a passing resemblance to Russian / Jewish dance music in places, but any musician can tell that this is all intensely personal. It is not the sort of music during which an audience can nod off and dose. We were on the edge of our seats throughout. The performers were all over the place (we were close enough to see that the 'cellist's shirt was drenched with sweat by the end) and during the furious passages the pianist was bouncing up and down on his stool, which must have had good padding and suspension.

It took me a long while to calm down after that concert, even after we had walked the kilometre back* to our parked car and had driven home.

* Concurrently with this event, a big American football match was taking place at the nearby stadium, so the parking was a challenge. Fortunately we couldn't hear the roars of the football crowd during the concert, once the church doors were shut.

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