Montrose Trio’s Haydn proves a highlight at Wolf Trap

Sat Mar 09, 2019 at 11:17 am

The Montrose Trio performed Friday night at Wolf Trap. Photo: Shayne Gray

The theme of Vienna in the Wolf Trap chamber music series, curated by Wu Han, was extended to Viennese influence on other cities this week. Friday night the Montrose Trio returned to the Barns, where they made their local debut in 2015. The group formed in 2013, when pianist Jon Kimura Parker joined forces with two members of the Tokyo String Quartet, which had disbanded around the same time.

Haydn’s piano trios, the foundation of the genre, remain among the best. He composed his last, the Piano Trio No. 45, as part of the set known as the “Bartolozzi Trios,” dedicated to a pianist he knew in London. Cellist Clive Greensmith produced a demure tone on the cello he had commissioned from an Italian luthier, best balanced with Parker and violinist Martin Beaver in this intimate work.

The trio ambled through the genial first movement, with its gently rocking contrapuntal theme. Parker wove lacy patterns from dancing arpeggio figures with a filigree touch. Likewise the three musicians delicately intertwined their overlapping melodic lines in the lovely slow movement, “Andantino ed innocentemente.” Some intonation disagreements cropped up in the last movement, especially in the cello, but a playful lightness in the articulation gave the piece humor, especially in the delightful shifts from triple to duple.

In the heavier romantic pieces that followed, full textures seemed to tax the loud end of the cello, surpassed in volume by the piano and Beaver’s more prominent violin. In his Piano Trio No. 2, Brahms pits the united strings against the piano in parts of the first movement, which Beaver and Greensmith limned with broad strokes. Parker came to the fore in the more mysterious second theme, with all three musicians creating a sense of longing through expressive phrasing.

The brooding theme and variations of the second movement was exquisite, especially the sighing melodic lines traded between violin and cello in the first variation. A lightning-quick tempo gave the Scherzo a devilish edge, contrasted beautifully with the unguarded and tender Trio section. The ensemble brought explosive but unified ensemble to the final movement’s more lighthearted thematic material, with some intonation concerns cropping up in the violin, but rounding out a sure handling of this masterful piece.

Dvořák, who benefitted professionally from the help of Brahms, returned the favor with a few musical tributes in his Piano Trio No. 3. The two string players surged powerfully together against the dominant piano in the first movement, Greensmith displaying his warmest, most elegant playing in the cello solos of the second theme. In the contrapuntal development, however, where violin and cello trade motifs back and forth, Beaver again outmatched him in volume.

A more strident approach to the second movement caused more intonation uncertainties in the strings. This piece’s slow movement, perhaps not as magnificent as its counterpart in the Brahms, still satisfied most in both individual playing and ensemble unity. In the wistful section with the theme beginning with an ardent octave leap, Beaver’s pure, limpid tone shone brightly, shadowed admirably by Greensmith’s cello. The voluble fourth movement, with its hemiola shifts reminiscent of Brahms, crowned this latest tribute to Vienna, Austria, in Vienna, Virginia.

The Sitkovetsky Trio and violinist Sean Lee perform Schubert, Beethoven, and Viennese émigré Korngold in The Barns at Wolf Trap 3 p.m. March 24. wolftrap.org; 703-255-1900


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