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The current season of the long-standing and fine Smedes Parlor concert series organized by Terry Thompson opened on September 16 with the Duke-Pegram Piano Trio offering two chestnuts of the repertoire. The first half of the recital was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven's Trio in D, Op. 70/1, known as the "Ghost," and the second half was given over to Antonin Dvorák's Trio, Op. 90, the "Dumky." The ensemble consists of Benjamin Ward, piano, Hsiao-mei Ku, violin, and Leonid Zilper, cello.
This reviewer has often stated that he carefully avoids programs that are too heavy on the war-horses, but this one was a most welcome exception. This type of programming is appropriate in this setting where most of the school's students have not yet heard them, and what a superb introduction they got. It is hard to imagine a more musical and a more perfect performance.
Ward played with the piano lid on the short stick, and at the outset it seemed a bit too loud and dominant, not necessarily wrong for a Beethoven work, but it did overshadow some of the fine nuances of Ku's playing in particular, although less so of Zilper's. He quickly adjusted his volume and for the remainder of the evening balance was spot on as was the ensemble throughout. In spite of having been in this region for 25 years, this was my first hearing of Ward's (Ph.D. in Philosophy, no relation) playing. His posture and style brought to mind that of a jazz musician, but the precision and musicianship were both as tight and professional as that of any major classical pianist. I think I must have missed out on a lot of great performances over the years!
I get to hear Ku and Zilper separately and in other ensembles far more often that I get to hear them together. I have fond memories of the first time I heard them play together well over a decade ago in an informal setting of providing background music for a holiday reception at what was then Books at Quail Corners (now Quail Ridge Books where I order and sell classical music CDs for a part-time day job). Their communication is intimate and instantaneous and their connection with the music and enthusiasm in playing it are evident at every turn, and infectious for the audience. They should definitely attempt to schedule more outings together.
The page-turner was a student of Zilper, Gal Nystra, who will be giving a recital in Meredith's Carswell Hall this Sunday (9/21) at 7:00 p.m. Never have I seen a better one! He was discreet and graceful - and accurate. He confided that it was his first time. He should give lessons! There were no written program notes to accompany the artist bios, but Ku gave brief and interesting oral ones that were just right for the setting.
The Beethoven was slightly marred by inappropriate applause from enthusiastic members of the audience after the first movement. After the second movement of the Dvorák, a small child (there were several in attendance, all enthralled by what they were hearing) began clapping, and when silenced by his mother, said: "Why? I just love it!" Well he should, for the performances of both works were right up there with, perhaps even above, many heard on recordings or in recitals by much bigger name groups passing through the area. The audience brought the musicians back out for several bows after both works. I just finished selecting my "Best of the Season" concerts from last year a short while ago. Whatever will I do this year when the season gets off to this kind of a start?
Note: Ku and Zilper, with pianist Ray Kilburn, perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the DSO on November 2, and Beethoven "Ghost" Trio and Dvorák's "Dumky" will be repeated (with Benjamin Ward) during a program at Cherry Hill, near Inez, in Warren County, on November 23.