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Monday night, the Bechtler Ensemble (Lenora Leggatt - violin, Vasily Gorkovoy - viola, and Tanja Bechtler - artistic director and cello) gave a concert before a live audience that was simultaneously streamed via YouTube.
The live and streamed audiences were welcomed by the director of "Arts at the Abbey," Karen Hite Jacob. She explained a few of the "ground rules" for the concert. She also informed us that the concert was being dedicated to the late Fr. David Kessinger, the most senior professed monk at Belmont Abbey who died February 7, 2021.
Each piece on the program was introduced by Bechtler with some inside info about the composer and the composition. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to understand because of the acoustics of the basilica. The camera used for streaming was stationary throughout the performance, with the trio playing off to the side. The end result was that the streamed audience saw the back of the cellist and most of the violinist. The violist was pretty much completely hidden.
The concert began with a work by Franz Schubert (Austria, 1797-1828), who was one of Kessinger's favorite composers. Schubert only completed the first movement Allegro of his Trio in B-flat, D. 471 (1816), and that is what we heard.
This is primarily a lyric work with melodic material sprinkled generously among the three parts. The playing was stylish, mostly gentle with appropriate dynamic nuances. Intonation was first-rate.
Intermezzo (1905) by Zoltán Kodály (Hungary, 1882-1967) is sometimes referred to as a "relaxed serenade." The first part of the five-minute work alternates between folk-like tunes (accompanied by pizzicato) and more hymn-like passages. The middle section featured nice octave unison melody over a drone cello. Nice to hear this early work by such an important figure in 20th century Hungarian music.
Jean Cras (France, 1879-1932) was a career naval officer. His four-movement Trio in A was written in 1926, and although he lived to be 85, he quit composing at age 37. The first movement is primarily a gentle, lyric work with a couple moments of drama, with each instrument given an important role. Thanks to the trio for bringing a winning performance of this lovely work to our ears.
Jean Sibelius (Finland, 1865-1957) is primarily known as a nationalist composer, most famously for the tone poem Finlandia. The slow movement is the only one completed from his planned String Trio in G.
The opening could easily represent a cold, desolate landscape. A descending tune played in unison by all three signals a turn toward the dramatic; this idea returns several times. The cello was in the spotlight quite a bit, and Bechtler's playing was solid. Impassioned playing by Leggatt and Gorkovoy followed before the piece came to its gentle conclusion.
The evening concluded with the Serenade, Op. 19 (1902) by Ernst von Dohnányi (Hungary, 1877-1960). The ensemble performed three of the five movements in this suite (considered by some to be one of the very best of his compositions).
The first-movement Marcia features an arresting opening, with alternating chords and sweeping scales. A repeated accompaniment pattern appears first in the viola and is later picked up by the violin. Good energy was displayed by the musicians throughout.
The second slow movement Romanza features pizzicato from violin and cello on off beats with the viola playing the soulful tune. New textures follow, with each instrument getting great lines to play.
The fourth movement Tema con variazioni closed the concert. The theme is a hymn-like, somber affair. A series of wonderful variations follows, exploring various textures and moods. The movement served as a wonderful conclusion to an evening featuring the great playing of the Bechtler Ensemble, which brought four gems from the early 20th century.