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In Wednesday night's Signature Performance, the Mile-End Trio (Jeff Multer, violin; Julian Schwarz, cello; Marika Bournaki, piano) performed works by Beethoven and Smetana. All three are founding members of the trio. Multer is concertmaster of the EMF Festival Orchestra, Schwarz is associate principal cello, and Bournaki is one of the piano faculty members.
The Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97 ("Archduke") by Ludwig van Beethoven was dedicated to Rudolph Johann Joseph Rainier, Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, and Cardinal-Archbishop of Olomouc. Rudolph was the recipient of the most dedications the composer bestowed on any one individual, including the Hammerklavier piano sonata, the fourth and fifth piano concertos, and the Missa solemnis. Rudolph was an accomplished musician and Beethoven's most dependable supporter and patron.
The "Archduke" Trio "marks one of the highest points reached by Beethoven in his chamber music." Indeed, one is struck by the magnificent construction of the 40-minute work. The opening Allegro moderato features melodic material divvied up more or less equally among violin, cello and piano. They seemed to have chosen to focus more on the "moderato" rather than the Allegro aspect, giving the proceedings an air of nobility.
The listener was impressed by the group's fine attention to the subtle dynamic shading and the lyricism in the score. To be sure there was nothing static in the performance; the three relished in surprising changes. Especially fun was the passage that featured pizzicatos in the strings accompanying staccatos in the piano.
The second movement Scherzo was fun and sprightly, full of good spirits. Bournaki was in complete command of the sparkling piano part. The middle section, with its serpentine lines, provided great contrast.
The slow theme-and-variation third movement seems to pick up speed because each subsequent variation consists of faster note values. The syncopated variation was particularly striking, with all three musicians savoring their participation in the rhythmic complexity.
The change of mood between the third and fourth movements is surprising, made more so in that the two are linked together. Here the Mile-End seemed to be having a great deal of fun. The moderately-sized audience roared its approval.
One could hardly think of a more contrasting piece than the Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15 by Bedřich Smetana. The work was written in 1855 and dedicated to his oldest daughter who had just died of scarlet fever at the age of four. One writer has called the work "a milestone of Romanticism," and many have remarked about the tragic nature of the score.
Indeed, Multer's passionate solo utterance of the main descending jagged theme made the grief seem palpable. All three joined in the full-throated fervent outbreaks of pain. To be sure, the movement also contains vigorous music as well as some that seems quasi-improvisational, freely brought out by the group. One must point out Bournaki's brilliant playing at the thrilling conclusion that sometimes appropriately bordered on violence.
The second movement Allegro alternates between perky, spirited, and furtive tunes and more delicate, child-like passages, many folk-infused. Toss in some majestic moments, and it is a movement brimming with contrasts.
The Presto finale begins as an off-to-the-races romp with an opening theme that returns several times in a display of non-stop energy. However, some of the tragic descending idea from the first movement finds its way in. But so do gorgeous tunes and textures including a funeral march. The closing features near-hysteria in its lyricism, making for an incredibly wide-ranging music experience.
Throughout the concert, the three musicians worked wonderfully as a team; ensemble was about as good as one could ask for. Multer's violin sound tends to be fine and slender, while Schwarz's is beefier. Sometimes it seemed that intonation was not perfect, maybe because of the difference of the timbre of the two instruments. And occasionally I could have asked for more Multer and a bit less of Bournaki because of balance issues. But these are trifles considering the mature and profound music-making that was evident throughout the evening.
The Eastern Music Festival is in its final week, and there are lots of music events taking place ever day. Check our calendar for details.