Friday night's concert in Slee Hall was spectacular in a rather understated way. Oh, there were plenty of melodies to go around; how could there not be when Mozart and Brahms were on the bill? But the sheer mastery of the Oberlin Trio's performance was so elegant, so refined and so genteel that the audience heard the music before they heard the performers.
Balancing the instrumental voices of violin, cello and piano is a tricky thing for both the composer and the performers, but the Oberlin Trio is a highly qualified ensemble created to take on the problem child of chamber music formats, the piano trio. Each member of the trio is a virtuoso in his own right, but their years of playing together were evident in a unified performance that verged on telepathy.
The piano trio seems to be one of those rites of passage that the great composers have gone through and, in varying degrees, succeeded with. Beethoven, Chopin and Faure have all had a go with the idiom as have Mozart, Brahms, Bridge and Persichetti, the composers heard in the Oberlin Trio's recital Friday night.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's delightful Trio in C Major, K. 548 led off the program with the group's instinctual-sounding union playing, especially in the lovely theme that opens up the work. Pianist Joseph Schwartz was particularly effective in the first movement while violinist Stephen Clapp and cellist Andor Toth were just as notable in the second and third movements, respectively.
In Frank Bridge's "Phantasie Trio," Clapp and Toth engaged in some rhapsodic string playing over Schwartz's steady keyboard artistry, handing themes off to one another in seamless segues with Toth's elegiac performance bringing out echoes of Gabriel Faure, a major influence on Bridge at the time this work was conceived.
American composer Vincent Persichetti's Serenade No. 3 opened the second half of the concert and contained some of the twelve-tone techniques that were in vogue when the piece was written (in the early 50s).
The Oberliners brought out some of the darkly textured humor of Persichetti's writing, especially in the duet sequences (of the second movement) between piano and cello.
Johannes Brahms' Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 101 was written in 1887 and is one of his most passionate creations. The writing is full-bodied, demanding "big" performances from the musicians, and the trio members delivered the composer's intent with plenty of punch.
The encore of the evening, the second movement from St. Saens second piano trio, was introduced by Clapp as "a little piece of fluff," but it was a satisfactory bon bon after an evening of fine aural dining.
Works of Mozart, Bridge, Persichetti and Brahms.
Friday at Slee Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus.