The Chanté Piano Trio includes Maria Parrini on piano, Paul Aguilar on violin, and Stephen Hawkey on cello. All three are university students (Parrini and Aguilar at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Hawkey at Bob Jones University). The oldest of them has not yet reached the age of twenty, yet they are already attracting attention both in their solo careers and as a trio.
Performing at the First Congregational Church in Hendersonville as part of Hendersonville Chamber Music on Sunday afternoon, they chose not to present three big works, but instead began with a short piece followed by two full-length piano trios from the standard repertoire. The curtain raiser was the well-known "Oblivion" tango by Astor Piazolla, which lasts about four minutes. The audience of a hundred found itself awash in waves of delightful sound and sensual rhythms. This was an apt opening work.
The Mozart Piano Trio in C, K. 548, was not as satisfying. The ensemble was tightly knit, the intonation was fine, and there were no glaring defects to mar the technical presentation, but somehow the work never caught fire. We heard precise grace notes and letter-perfect exposed runs from the piano, but an almost metronomic tempo. The violin tone was at times rather thin – we could have stood a little more vibrato. We heard some fitting interpretive gestures from Hawkey, who couldn't seem to ignite the others with his ideas. Over all, the work was delivered in a rather perfunctory interpretation. It was as though these musicians, at least as a trio, hadn't yet found their way into this composer's depths. This was not the robust Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that I revel in, but some namby-pamby who lacked guts.
All was forgiven after the intermission, when Chanté gave a very satisfying performance of the Brahms Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 87. Hawkey paid rapt attention to his colleagues, and fitted his emotional swings to the needs of all three players. Violinist Aguilar came through with passion, particularly in the third and fourth movements (Scherzo: Presto and Allegro giocoso). Parrini's piano performance was at its peak, living up to my expectations. In the past, I have admired her work both as a teenage cellist and more recently as an award-winning solo pianist. She was a winner in the concerto competition at the Brevard Music Center in 2012, interestingly enough performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. She is now showing that her mastery of Brahms extends to the chamber repertoire.
Chamber music of the highest order requires that the musicians involved not only have individual talent, but also have had the luxury of time spent rehearsing at length, experimenting and discussing the aesthetic details of their chosen repertoire. My guess is that these three young musicians have managed, despite their busy schedules, to coalesce on an interpretation of the Brahms but have not yet reached a consensus on the Mozart. I look forward to hearing their evolution as a group.