Chamber Music Review



A Classical Evening in Vienna with a Touch of Paris

November 13, 2001 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Person Recital Hall is about the right size and has about the right kind of styling to allow an audience to fantasize that they were privileged to be at an exclusive musicale in 18th-century Vienna on Tuesday night, November 13. All of the music had been composed between 1770 and 1810 and it was being played upon instruments either restored to reflect the designs of the period or upon copies of instruments of the period. The wonderfully mellow toned fortepiano was a copy of an unspecified instrument of Beethoven's time made by R. T. Regier of Freeport. It had been donated to UNC in memory of the Fitzgerald Family. The violin had the flatter bridge and the cello was played held between the player's calves without a floor pin.

Franz Joseph Haydn composed the Trio in E Minor, H. XV:12, in 1788, about the same time as the "Oxford" Symphony (No. 92). He had previously composed for the harpsichord but this was his first work for the new "Hammerflügel" (fortepiano) by Wenzel Schanz. Fortepianist Karyl Louwenaar Lueck played with the lid fully up but never swamped the two string players, violinist Karen Clarke and cellist Brent Wissick. The allegro moderato was full of twists, turns and hesitations with the violin and cello more often than not, imitating and taking up themes initiated by the fortepiano. The charming andante opened with pizzicato strings against the fortepiano theme. It featured elaborate ornamentation. The rondo finale showcased a playful keyboard tune with rapid string commentary and a droning string figure at one point.

The "touch of Paris" came next in the form of the Sonata No. 2 in D Major for Violoncello and Keyboard (1770) by Martin Berteau. Wissick explained the indirect connection between Berteau and the Vienna of Beethoven: Berteau founded the French school of cello playing, and among his pupils was the Elder Duport, who with his son was active at the Kaiser's court, where Beethoven might have had his grasp of cello possibilities expanded. The fortepiano was but a discrete shy partner in the stately dark and mournful Siciliana, which Wissick bowed with beautiful articulation with long unbroken phrases. The Theme and Variations movement brought out most of the tricks of the trade of the French school. After a slow statement of the theme, a faster variation featured high harmonics, another, extraordinarily fast bowing and the last, extremely complex fingering along with double and triple stops.

Violinist Clarke joined fortepianist Lueck next for Schubert's charming, lightweight Sonatina in G Minor, D.408 (1810). The piece was pleasant but utterly forgettable.

The concert ended with Beethoven's Trio in G Major, Op. 1, No. 2 (1793-4). The contrast with the opening Haydn Trio could not have been greater with all three instruments used independently in the slow opening introduction. The two middle movements featured some of the best string playing of the evening. With much of the writing in the middle range, Clarke sounded warmer and more secure than earlier. In some of the exposed high notes in earlier pieces, some notes sounded sour and other struck me as having been a little sharp. The scherzo was unusual in that it kept the cello in its lowest range much of the time allowing full exposure of Wissick's deep rich tone. The fortepiano, which provided bright contrast, never covered the strings--indeed, the violin and cello swamped it, near the end of the first movement. To those who had attended the Eroica Piano Trio's open rehearsal earlier in the season, the contrast between modern and "classical" instruments in the same acoustical environment could not have been greater. The sparkling brilliance of the fast Presto finale provided a welcome counterpoise and a rousing finish for a delightful evening of chamber music.