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The last time the Eroica Trio appeared on the Dana Auditorium stage at the Eastern Music Festival, pianist Erika Nickrenz and violinist Adela Peña had recently given birth to their sons. This year it was cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio's turn, and cellist Grace Bahng, currently a member of the Colorado Piano Trio, stepped in for the July 14 concert on only two days' notice. She has played with the Eroica members at many music festivals, and she and Sant'Ambrogio were in the same cello class taught by Leonard Rose, a long-time EMF supporter.
Bahng was certainly up to speed, and her phrasing closely meshed with that of Peña and Nickrenz. Her intonation was excellent, and she produced a rich, warm tone. Her style of playing is traditional, with very little overt display of body language, in contrast to the passionate weaving and bobbing about of both Peña and the absent Sant'Ambrogio. While frowned upon by some older audiences, the more chorographic approach is popular with both younger and "new" audiences, who take it as passionate involvement. More identify with Dionysus' followers than with those of the Stoics. Unlike the other glamorous ensemble that has appeared in the area, the Ahn Piano Trio, the Eroica Trio delivers all the musical goods.
I had almost forgotten what a superb pianist Nickrenz is! Throughout the concert, she gave masterful demonstrations of how to balance with strings and how to play with full musical values - phrasing, rhythm, nuanced dynamics, and a broad palette of color. Although she sometimes indulged in a bit of writhing about, Peña played with very precise intonation, even in the most exposed high positions, and she produced an ample tone.
Because of the last-minute personnel change, the original program (a Loeillet trio sonata, Schubert's First Trio, and Mark O'Conner's "Poets and Prophets," inspired by Johnny Cash was dropped.
Fine classical style was on display in the opening Trio in B-flat, Op. 11, by Beethoven. This is a piano trio arrangement of the composer's clarinet trio. Music to be found on two of the ensemble's most popular CDs was sampled with the Andante moderato from Paul Schoenfield's "Café Music" and José Bragato's arrangements of four pieces by Astor Piazzolla. Schoenfield's easy-to-like mix of American musical idioms has received a lot of local performances since many groups have taken it up. The smoldering tangos of Piazzolla are very popular and have become virtual signature pieces for the Eroica Trio.
Lush melodies and infectious Czech rhythms abounded in the concluding work, Dvorák's sprawling Trio in E Minor, Op. 90 ("Dumky"). What a joy it was to hear the ensemble's spontaneous rubatos as they leaned into the melodies! Heavy marketing by the concert's sponsor, WFDD, brought in a lot of folks new to concert-going, and every break in the playing was greeted with applause... all evening long. The trio exchanged impish grins when their quick attack kept applause from spoiling the end of the "Dumky" Trio. The encore was a repeat of "Oblivion" from the Piazzolla selections.
Eroica addicts can get their next fix when the ensemble plays January 8 and 9, 2005, on Durham's Chamber Arts Society series. While that series is often sold out, there ought to be tickets available for the second matinee performance. See CVNC's series page for details.