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Daniel Weiser, pianist and impresario extraordinaire, welcomed an enthusiastic audience into his home for this, the latest in Classicopia's series of house concerts. Joining him were Franklin Keel, cello, and Kara Poorbaugh, who did admirable double duty on violin and viola. Though hobbled with a cold, Weiser never flagged as host, program annotator, promoter of upcoming events, and ensemble anchor. One senses that the Classicopia concept — that of bringing music to people in a variety of informal venues with a more relaxed presentation style — energizes him and his colleagues in a way that music making in traditional venues does not. We get to know the players a little better, notice details of execution and communication, and perhaps understand a bit more the physical and emotional demands of high caliber chamber playing — above all, the fierce concentration that nets such superb results. The Classicopia players let each of us enjoy a catbird seat, with refreshments in the bargain!
This program centered around two giants of the trio repertory, the Mendelssohn Trio in D minor Op. 49 and the Brahms Trio in A minor Op. 114. Astor Piazzolla's "Invierno Porteño," a single movement from his Cuatro estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), was served up for dessert. Though I'd heard the Peabody Trio just perform the Mendelssohn work very recently in Asheville, I was gratified by this ensemble's rendition. They had something to say, and they weren't afraid to say it. Because the violinist and cellist were positioned just inside the living room (where the audience was seated) with the piano in an adjacent alcove behind the two strings, their sounds were especially prominent. None of the rooms had carpets, and consequently the spaces were brightly resonant; in such close quarters one could easily hear the tremendous dynamic range of these modern strings and observe the various bowing techniques which interpret the music. It was clear that the players were at home with the piece, and while it sounded well rehearsed, it exuded a vitality that hadn't been undermined by all the preparation.
The Brahms Trio, originally composed in 1891 for clarinet, cello and piano, was first performed by Richard Mühlfeld, Robert Haussmann and Brahms in Meiningen on November 24, 1891.The trio enjoys additional performances in this incarnation for viola, cello, and piano. It is an unusual work of Brahms's old age, with movements three and four somewhat abbreviated, and a weighted sadness in its first movement Allegro, even in its nimble scale passages. Within this elegiac movement the strings were often yoked in stunning unison passages which morphed into wistful dialogue. The third movement Andante grazioso was markedly different with its light-hearted and waltz-like folksy charm. The finale restored a semblance of seriousness and its big moments were thrillingly executed.
Ending this delightful concert was the "Invierno Porteño," a kind of tango unleashed from its Argentinean roots and blended with elements of jazz and romping percussive effects. It's a piece correlating to the winter season (in homage to Vivaldi), but is anything but brooding. The piano part was the most interesting of the three, as Piazzolla loaded it with raucous syncopations and dissonant harmonies. In one section appeared a sort of disjunct recitative that sounded like gremlins unleashed on the keyboard, and this was later tempered by lyricism. The whimsical and episodic nature of the music still left one unprepared to hear at the piece's end — of all things — a Pachelbel-like chord progression with short variations. Yow!