Beethoven's Trio in C minor, first performed in 1793, opened this concert. It is the third of his Opus 1 Trios and Beethoven considered it his best.
From the beginning, the balance and fine ensemble of the Arden Trio was clear. The voice weaving meshed well, and the confident use of silence was most effectively. Giving rests their full measure allowed the music to breathe. The middle movements, and the Andante cantabile in particular, seemed a bit rushed but the clean articulation was maintained. After much furor at a breathtaking speed, the trio ends with a sigh of gentle tranquility.
While there are some important melodic lines for the violin and cello, this is a real tour de force for the piano. Beethoven wanted the piano to sing, to express great feeling, while making relentless demands on technique. Thomas Schmidt, Arden pianist, was up to the challenge. Particularly striking was the deceptive simplicity of the Andante theme. It was measured and articulate yet very moving.
The Brahms Trio in B Major followed. First performed in 1854, it was revised some 37 years later. This youthful extravagance, tempered by maturity, still soars and plunges in emotional extremes. Love and suffering are thoroughly explored.
The sonorous cello opening theme makes clear a shift in the alignment of the instruments. There can be no question about Brahms' affinity for the cello. While the violin and piano are independently important, again and again it is the cello to which he gives the lyric, emotion-laden themes. Clay Ruede, Arden cellist, sparkled. His was a full, lush, singing tone, capable of compelling intimacy.
In the Scherzo, Suzanne Ornstein, Arden violinist, contrasted Ruede's style. In the unexpectedly lyric interlude in this driven movement, her understated line was fragile and vulnerable and most effective. At other times, her tone seemed a bit thin and a little too reticent.
The concluding Allegro seems to contain all of the futility of Brahms' hopeless love for Clara Schumann. While it is almost overwhelmed by melancholy there is an underlying pulse that propels it. It builds to a sobbing conclusion, the antithesis of the Beethoven. The Arden managed these emotional outpourings well, never losing control.
Mendelssohn's 1839 Trio in D minor concluded the program. Schumann called is "the master trio" with its characteristics of balance, avoidance of emotional extremes, and assured handling of materials. Lying midway between Beethoven and Brahms, chronologically and emotionally, it brought a sense of balance to the program.
The Arden Trio was at its best with controlled, excellent ensemble. Their articulate technique combined well with emotional understanding.
The opening movement is full of agitating dance rhythms. The second movement's tranquil Andante has a singing melody in the strings, sinuously played by Ornstein. They were fine but mild compared to the third movement. This Scherzo is very fast with a light, staccato sound. Arden kept it wonderfully buoyant, flitting joyously without ever losing tempo. It was stunning. The Finale threatened to run away but control was retrieved just in time for a triumphant ending.
An encore of Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 6 was tossed off with reckless gypsy abandon. It had just the right bravura touch.
REVIEW The Arden Trio New York-based trio presented by Buffalo Chamber Music
Tuesday evening in Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall.