Southern Pines' intimate Sunrise Theater was packed for a January 30 chamber music concert by the Gryphon Trio, named after the mythical half-lion and half-eagle beast, and now in its thirteenth year. A broad selection of its repertory, on Analekta CDs, was on sale in the lobby. The Canadian piano trio is based at the University of Toronto. The members are pianist Jamie Parker, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, and cellist Roman Borys. The tones of a 1907 Carlo Oddone violin and a 1862 J. B. Vuillaume cello mesh very well, creating a warm blend. Two Romantic pieces from the core repertory were preceded by a chestnut from the Classical period.
Many trio recitals end with encores of the rousing Magyar folk themes of the finale (Rondo all' Ongarese) of Haydn's Piano Trio in G, H.XV:25. While I would have preferred wider exploration of the composer's vast catalog of trios, it was pleasant to hear the entire work. This is the first of Haydn's trios that freed the violin from an accompanying role. Instead of the usual opening allegro, the first movement is a relaxed series of variations; the violin becomes prominent in the third one. The middle section of the slow movement verges on the Romantic style. These sections provided maximum contrast for the unbridled exuberance of the finale.
Antonín Dvorák's Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 ("Dumky"), has long been a favorite of audiences. In his Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger defines a "dumka" as "a Slavic folk song with a pervasive melancholy or pensive quality that is relieved by sharply contrasting interludes, which range from serene to exuberant." The plural "Dumky" refers to six thematically-unrelated movements dispersed throughout the trio. Filled with delicious long-breathed melodies, each instrument is given its due as a solo, and the various pairings are fascinating.
The encore was a slow tango, "Primavea Portenã," by Astor Piazzolla. This was well played and very enjoyable but not as steamy as the Eroica Trio's no-holds-barred version.
The Gryphon Trio's selection of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 66, was most welcome. This unjustly-neglected piece is too seldom performed. The score is every bit the equal of the First Piano Trio; it is full of sweeping melodies, and the elfin qualities of the fairy music from A Midsummer Night's Dream haunts the fleet third movement. Berger describes the second movement as "one extended glorious song." A solemn chorale, "which Eris Werner has traced back to 'Von deinen Thron,' from the 1551 Geneva Psalter," is introduced in the finale and combined with the principal theme in the coda.
All these works displayed the mature musicianship of the members of the Gryphon Trio. The performances were very much team efforts without any grandstanding, but the players seemed to have effortless mastery of their instruments. Parker balanced the Steinway perfectly, never covering his colleagues' line. His playing was crisp, and he was alert for every twist and turn of dynamic nuance. The first two works revealed the warm and lustrous tone of Patipatanakoon's violin while the Mendelssohn highlighted tightly-focused intonation. Borys coaxed a full, resonant sound from his cello that seemed like a vocalise sung by a great baritone. The Gryphon Trio is clearly among the top exponents of the piano trio literature. I look forward to hearing them again and often.