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Chamber Music Review Print

Abegg Trio Brings Beethoven's Piano Trios to Expressive Life

September 9, 2007 - Raleigh, NC:

A winning combination of instrumental mastery and formidable musicianship characterized the Abegg Trio’s performance of three piano trios of Ludwig van Beethoven: the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11 “Gassenhauertrio;” the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in c minor, Op. 1, No. 3; and the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 “Archduke.” In this concert, the last of three Triangle programs devoted to Beethoven's complete music for piano trio, the talents of Ulrich Beetz, violin; Birgit Erichson, cello; and Gerrit Zitterbart, piano brought the expressive melodies, inventive harmonies and skillful instrumental writing to life. 

Even the most general analysis reveals that the Abegg Trio meets all the musical standards critics apply to determine the worth of a performance. Throughout their Fletcher Opera Theater concert, presented as the finale of this year's September Prelude season-opener and the opening concert of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's 66th season, the players maintained impeccable intonation and paid due attention to dynamics. All three were imposing technicians with an ability to meet the musical requirements of any composer.

From beginning to end of this program, these superb instrumentalists played with an ease and a pleasure that belied the difficulty of the music before them and always maintained an ensemble unshaken by musical circumstances. On many occasions during the allegro movements, the dizzying speed in which Beetz and Erichson executed ascending and descending passages showed breathtaking technical mastery, at the same time illustrating their ability to make their instruments sing with one voice. In these movements the playing of both was brilliant yet unbelievably light, as if their bows were barely touching the instruments.

Other illustrations of the players’ attention to ensemble were also apparent in descending unison arpeggios as well as in passages in which the strings sang slow, descending unison lines not clearly distinguishable from each other. Moreover, throughout their performances of all three trios, both players illustrated their understanding of the stylistic touches that were the musical fashion during Beethoven’s early days as pianist and composer. This musical awareness claims the listener’s attention particularly in slow movements in which suspensions in the strings emphasized the expressive nature of phrases and other passages in which lengthy notes swelled from piano to mezzo forte and back in a dazzling, expressive mezzo di voce.

Pianist Zitterbart revealed that his skills are no less admirable than those of his colleagues. His masterful technique allowed him to execute the exciting, rapid scale passages and arpeggios so common in allegro movements, to use his lightest touch to state some of Beethoven’s sweetest, most melancholy melodies, and to evoke in the low registers the dark, melancholy themes in slow movements. His ability to state the thematic material of the slow movements resulted in many of the most beautiful moments a listener encounters in performances of these works. Moreover, his playing is the musical stuff that holds the performance of all three players together and thus makes a great contribution toward maintaining the ensemble. This is particularly obvious in most of the slow movements, in which the piano and strings must state principle thematic material with the same emphasis and tonal color.

The analysis above explains in great part why the Abegg Trio’s audience took such delight in their performance. It remains to add that the players’ delight in performing the music of a great composer and in playing with each other was clearly communicated to the audience from the first notes of the concert through the charming encore — the single-movement Trio in B, WoO 39 — and created a bond that guaranteed mutual pleasure and success for the performers.

*We are pleased to introduce Martha A. Fawbush to our readers. For her biography, please [see About Us].