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On Tuesday evening November 13, the Arman Trio, whose pianist Deniz Gelenbe was based in Durham a few years back but now lives in central Florida, paid another visit to the Triangle. Before coming to the USA, she lived for 20-odd years in Paris, where she still has an apartment and where she still spends summers annually as she remains involved in two summer festivals there, and where her colleagues, violinist Constantin Bogdanas, and cellist Dorel Fodoreanu, are based. These two are also members there of the Ionesco Quartet, which is well known and well-regarded in Europe, but has never made a concert trip to the USA.
The program opened with Schubert's Adagio in E-flat, D.897, once known as the Notturno. This work was probably originally composed about 1827 to be the slow movement of an intended trio, but the other movements were never written before Schubert's death the following year. It is a curious piece in many ways, not particularly easy to pull off well, and one seemingly loved by audiences but not very much liked by performers. The Arman acquitted itself very well in spite of the violinist's recalcitrant instrument which did not want to stay in tune, perhaps due to the uncomfortably warm temperature of the room that was filled to capacity and then some. It served to set the tone of the evening in a very calming, peaceful manner.
Without leaving the performance space, they launched into the Beethoven Trio No. 6 in the same key, Op. 70, No. 2, composed in 1808, the nickname-less companion to the Ghost Trio. Like the Schubert piece, this is a bit of a curiosity in that it does not have either a minuet or the traditional scherzo movement. The tempi of the four movements are thus all quite similar, making this a composition all of a piece and without any major contrasts, albeit more lively and upbeat than the Schubert work. The fine and pleasing performance was again slightly marred by the recalcitrant violin that had to be re-tuned after the second movement. This is one of the earliest works to give the cello a role beyond that of a primarily continuo sound.
After intermission, we were treated to another fine presentation of a work that was once nearly a war-horse but is played far less frequently these days, Anton Arensky's Trio in d minor, Op. 32, composed in 1894. It, too, breaks from the standard piano trio mold by making the scherzo the second movement and using an adagio elegy as the third, thus creating more significant contrasts. The work also makes fairly heavy use of pizzicato in said scherzo for an interesting effect. The playing was precise and intense throughout, and the violin was at last more cooperative.
This reviewer feared, when he saw the lid of the piano fully open, an overpowering of the string players by the piano in this true salon-type space which is perhaps Raleigh's most appropriate and authentic one for chamber music, uncomfortable folding chairs notwithstanding. However, except for one or two instances in the aforementioned pizzicato sections, there was nothing of the sort. Although Gelenbe can occasionally be a somewhat aggressive player, she maintained an appropriate, though varied volume level throughout the evening. The playing was notable for its real cohesiveness, meticulous balance, and deft allowing of each player to stand out and shine at the right solo-like moments in all the works. Gelenbe is an artist who clearly enjoys playing: her face often lit up with a large smile that conveyed her real pleasure in the music and its performance. Would that it could be a bit contagious and caught by her string colleagues who maintained fairly serious facial demeanor throughout.
One serious detraction, however, is Gelenbe's handling of her musical score. She did not have a page turner, nor has she ever used one in any of her performances that I have attended, presumably because she likes to maintain control herself and avoid the distraction of an individual rising to turn the page and sitting down again beside her. But her battles with the recalcitrant pages that refuse to lie flat are in the final analysis far more unpleasant for the concertgoer because they are even more distracting and far noisier, consequently compromising the listener's pleasure in the music itself by adding extraneous jarring sounds. There are ways around this other than memorizing the music that would also allow dispensing with a page-turner. The pages can be cut apart and bound with a spiral in a copy shop, or placed in a loose-leaf binder with or without plastic holders designed for this purpose. Gelenbe might wish to consider another solution for future performances. The Arman has been invited to play excerpts from this same program at the ceremony in Paris in December marking the 40th anniversary of Aérospatiale, the French equivalent of NASA at which all of the political dignitaries will be present.