The ECU Piano Trio includes Keiko Sekino, piano, Hye-Jin Kim, violin, and Emanuel Gruber, cello. Sekino's past includes Peabody and the Yale School of Music; she is presently assistant professor of piano. Kim studied at Curtis Institute and New England Conservatory; she is assistant professor of violin. Gruber studied at the Academy of Music in Jerusalem and with Piatigorsky and Starker; he is professor of cello and chamber music. Their concert offered a feast to aficionados of music in the Romantic style, with a program of Beethoven, Russian composer Reinhold Glière, and Brahms.
The performers were willing to let the music speak for itself; the audience was spared the introductions, anecdotes, and lectures that have become de rigueur at so many events in the area. The program opened with Beethoven's Trio No. 4, Op. 11, in B-flat minor. In the allegro, Kekino was very self-assured and displayed a lot of well-rehearsed precision in the runs. Kim was in just the right place for the strings of her violin to flash bright red in the light of the colored spots. The adagio opens with a song on the cello, immediately repeated on the violin; this song is a perfect place for the beautiful vibrato of both Gruber and Kim. Both string players played delicately and without bombast. Sekino showed great restraint. There was no battering; the piano was crisp and precise. In the well-known allegretto, the vigorous writing after the two-part section was tossed off with verve by Kim and answered forcefully by Gruber. Although forceful, the playing in the Beethoven was never offensively loud.
Glière's Eight Pieces for violin and cello gave Gruber and Kim a chance to take turns showing their skills. Gruber had an especially light touch in the Prelude. The Gavotte was nice period stuff; but what period? The mysterious Impromptu did not benefit from the muddy legato. In the happy Scherzo, Kim and Gruber demonstrated a careful collegiality; they are well-matched in volume, tone color, and skill. They played well together and Kim seemed relaxed for the first time. She watched Gruber intently. His professionalism carefully disguised any reciprocity; I did not see him look at her a single time. The playing in the Etude displayed a good sense of brio. There were a couple of buzzy bee passages that saw them get apart a trifle, but they always got it back together.
Brahms's Trio No. 2, Op. 87, in C, grabbed this audience impressively. The Allegro was performed in the performance style called "See how loud we can play." The interminable melodic lines showed how sombre Brahms is, even in the major mode. The Andante was played as long-hair music that one must take so seriously. Unlike Mozart or Handel, it would never do at a wedding reception. Are we having fun? I think not. But the intonation was excellent. Sekino, Kim, and Gruber played perfectly together in the Scherzo, with its delicious long singing passages. The Finale-Allegro was highly theatrical per se. Although it got a little shrill in places, there were no wrong notes or rhythmic missteps.
Altogether this was an impressive concert by these University big guns.