Brevard Music Center programmed a winning combination of Beethoven works in this performance of chamber music at Brevard College’s Porter Center. Fourteen different performers, all artist-faculty members at BMC, brought to life a satisfying array of the maestro’s works for both strings and winds that spanned the stylistic gamut of mature classical style to the dramatic edginess of the composer’s heroic period. It was both the variety of works and the consummately professional way in which they were performed that marked this concert as exceptional.
The opening String Trio in D, Op. 9, No. 2 featured violinist Carolyn Huebl, violist Jennifer Snyder Kozoroz, and cellist David Premo. The work was one of three string trios composed in 1798 after Beethoven had moved from Bonn to Vienna and shows his indebtedness to his classical predecessors. The players showed a clear understanding of the work’s grace and elegance, and, not overplaying it, allowed the work to speak for itself. The work’s four movements followed the familiar classical template of Allegretto, a lyrical Andante quasi allegretto, a graceful Menuetto, Allegro, and a folksy concluding Rondo Allegro. The playing was nearly flawless, with an excellent blending of timbres and beautifully calibrated voicings, creating that “conversation among equally intelligent speakers” that simply draws one in, too.
For the next work, the Octet for Winds in E-flat major, Op. 103 we heard the voice of Beethoven in 1792 Bonn during his early employment at the court of Elector Maximilian Franz, before he had made the move to Vienna. At that time he was still composing Harmoniemusik, light music for entertainment and various festivities, for wind groups. Beethoven would later abandon this genre in favor of chamber music for strings and piano. The players were oboists Eric Ohlsson and Paige Morgan, clarinetists Steve Cohen and Eric Ginsberg, bassoonists William Ludwig and Susan Barber, and Jeff Nelsen and Hazel Dean Davis on French horns. Like the opening work on this program, this one also unfolded in four movements. The opening Allegro was robust, with impeccable ensemble and musical exchanges which were easily followed in the excellent acoustics of the Porter Center. The second movement Andante featured an extended lyrical duet between the first oboe (Ohlsson, who also led the ensemble) and first bassoon (William Ludwig). The third movement, though labeled a Menuetto, behaved more like a humorous and extraverted Scherzo, with the final Presto a real tour-de-force of precision playing, with unexpected and thrilling fanfares erupting from the horns.
After intermission was the standalone favorite, the Piano Trio in D, Op. 70, No. 1 (published in 1809), also known as the "Ghost" trio for its eerily brooding second movement. When earlier works such as the two preceding ones are juxtaposed to one such as this, it’s easier to appreciate the shock value Beethoven’s stylistic innovations must have had on his contemporary audience, for the gloves really do come off. The piece is extraordinarily dramatic, with a level of unpredictability that is both unsettling and exciting. The players, pianist Norman Krieger, violinist Marjorie Bagley, and cellist Felix Wang gave it their all. The relatively short two outer movements frame the emotional heart of the work, its extended second movement Largo assai ed espressivo. The moodiness of the movement couldn’t be missed, and this ensemble was particularly adept at playing up its emotional contrasts, with the kind of playing that is not only memorable but even transformative for players and listeners alike.
Chamber Music at Porter continues on Wednesday, July 10. See our calendar for details.