The second set of residency performances of the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival, sponsored by the East Carolina University School of Music and titled “Chamber Music Monuments,” was a concert not to be missed. This year is the 16th manifestation of the Four Seasons Festival, wherein concerts, workshops, and other events celebrating chamber music for all ages are held throughout the year. Four Seasons is based in Greenville, but this concert at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church in Raleigh marks the Festival’s continuation in the Triangle area and beyond.

Each season of the festival is inspired by a commissioned set of watercolor paintings by musician and artist Michiko Theurer (who is also a former student of festival artistic director Ara Gregorian). This years’ paintings are about fragments, and the particular piece that goes with “Chamber Music Monuments” is titled “Ice.”

The concert featured violinist Gregorian along with pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute and cellist Marcy Rosen. These three accomplished artists worked seamlessly together to create memorable performances of two trios that “need no introduction”: Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 and Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3.

Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8, was written when the composer was only 21 years old, yet its complexity shines just as much as any of Brahms’ later works. This trio is a beautiful combination of Classical era forms with Romantic sensitivity and passion. The first movement begins Allegro con brio. The piano sets a pastoral mood with flowing and graceful patterns, while a lyrical melody emerges, played by the cello. Soon after, the two string instruments join in harmony, increasing in depth. Right from the beginning of the performance, it was abundantly clear how well these expert chamber musicians worked together – to the audience it seemed that Gregorian and Rosen knew exactly when to look up and make eye contact at the most sensitively-timed passages. In the case of pianist Jokubaviciute, who in traditional trio fashion was positioned behind the strings, communication via eye contact was not always possible, but, the trio was nonetheless naturally seamless. A highlight of the first movement that exemplified this was when the violin and cello played a unison melody in the same octave, with a blend between the two instruments that was quite remarkable.

The second movement of the Brahms trio is a ternary-form Scherzo in characteristic lively triple meter; the Scherzo ends on a peaceful chord that transitions seamlessly into the Adagio movement. In this movement, the piano and strings take turns in the spotlight; quiet chord progressions from the piano are exchanged with short melodic phrases in the strings. The Finale takes over immediately, with a rushing and capricious texture in contrast. Dramatic phrasing and leaping melodies showcased the resonance of the three instruments in the acoustically live sanctuary.

Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65, has a similarly passionate feel, compared to the Brahms, but with a definitively proud and regal edge, reflective of Dvořák’s nationalistic style. The texture of this trio is slightly less predictable than the texture of the previous one, as the first movement begins with a unison melody that soon explodes into an urgent texture led by the piano. The themes of this movement as well as the whole work are proud and sometimes even defiantly so. The second movement, Allegretto grazioso, features contrasting rhythmic division – while the strings play triplet figures, the piano continues with a melody that is strongly duple. This creates a sense of tension and uneasiness when it occurs. The Poco adagio movement contains careful phrasing and mysteriously beautiful progressions, with a more major sound than the previous two movements. The Finale, similarly to the first movement, is restless and dramatic, with sudden pauses on unfinished cadences toward the end that leads to a final strong resolution. The performances of both these trios truly represented the monumental importance of the works in the chamber music repertoire.

The Four Seasons festival returns to Raleigh on January 24. For details, click here.