The fortepiano was the centerpiece of an all-Beethoven program given by Randall Love, violinist John Pruett, and cellist Brent Wissick in the Nelson Music Room on the evening of March 12 as part of the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society’s annual conference. Duke’s keyboard instrument, not part of the Eddy Collection, was built in 1987 by Thomas and Barbara Wolf after Streicher, c.1815.

My challenge to John Pruett when I spoke to him after the concert was to perfect a touring program of three trios with his colleagues. The trio finale of the concert was spellbinding. The program that built up to it was remarkably good but, I repeat, the trio was spellbinding. “Call it the Beaux Arts Baroque,” I said. He corrected me, “Beaux Arts Transitional!” Well, my spontaneous call was more nearly alliterative. A publicist will think of a name for them if the three ever choose to become a touring group.

The transitional Beethoven program was very well built, opening with Love and Pruett playing the ambitious “Spring” Sonata, in F, Op. 24 (1800-01). Though all the notes appeared to have been mastered, the violin itself didn’t seem strong enough to carry the Beethoven. As the marathon of intricate music neared its conclusion, the violinist relaxed into some expressive knee bends and a fine finish. The fortepiano partnered the stringed instrument dependably. But one heard the familiar Beethoven strength of style as comparatively thinned or strained.

Love and Wissick then presented an artistic reading of Sonata in D, Op. 102/2 (1815). Whether the sound was a wail, a mellow cello melody, or a clear and vigorous attack a la Beethoven, there was always drama, especially in the clear low tones. Love once again was a perfect match in the duo work although if he listens to a tape he may notice that the fortepiano was more forte than the cello at times. For instance, in the Adagio, the piano was a little strong for the pensive cello melody, though it was never unpleasant. Beethoven toys with the audience, creating suspense and urgency. Since the keyboard was considered the primary instrument in these works, and the string instrument sometimes appears to be playing obbligato, some seeming imbalance might be expected.

Love earned another round of rich applause when after intermission he performed solo. The work was the Sonata in E Minor, Op. 90 (1824). The members of the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society warmed to the solo performance. Love played the first of two movements as the notation directs – “Mit Lebhaftigheit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” – and the second movement, marked “Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen,” was comparatively brilliant.

The piece de resistance was the Trio in D (“Ghost”), Op. 70, No. 1 (1808). In a brilliant takeoff, the three artists leaned into the music. After scribbling a note or two as it began – “Charming romantic melodic counterpoint; rippling fortepiano; Allegro ends with flourish” – I put aside my pen to settle back and experience it. It was obvious that good vibes among them propelled the music. The three artists worked together like a longstanding ensemble and produced a mesmerizing effect. There was resounding applause sincerely offered and utterly deserved yet, wonder of wonders, there was no standing ovation. Can it be that the musicians in the audience were thinking “been there – done that”?