The Vienna Piano Trio has received acclaim around the world for their splendid chamber music performances. And their presence at the Music and Beyond festival was deeply appreciated by the audience. They are exquisitely delightful in capturing the spirit of chamber music – they move everyone listening.
The Vienna Piano Trio is considered one of the most noted ensembles of its type to emerge in the last decade of the 20th century. Two of its original members are Viennese. This may help explain why the trio is particularly successful in repertory by composers closely associated with Austria – notably Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, and Dvorák. Their playing has been described as being true to traditional Viennese sentimentality while respecting the nuances of folk music traditions that appear in the works of all these composers.
Ottawa was blessed with three concerts by the trio at the Music and Beyond festival. The first half began with Franz Schubert’s Sonatensatz in B-flat major for piano trio. This work was one Schubert’s first, written in 1812, immediately after as a fifteen-year-old he lost his place in Vienna’s Imperial Chapel Choir due to his voice breaking. It is a relatively quiet piece that the trio held in perfect balance – and a perfect beginning.
The next three pieces were by Anton Webern. Webern was born and educated in Vienna. He died in Allied Occupied Austria after being shot by an American soldier. During World War II, the Nazi Party declared his works as degenerate art. Both the publication and performance of his music were banned soon after the Anschluss in 1938. This is not surprising since Webern wrote pieces which were freely atonal and can be considered difficult to appreciate.
The Vienna Piano Trio presented three pieces that were played in the order they were written. The first was Two Pieces for cello and piano, considered to have been written when Webern was a late teenager. The cello weaved a tune that is gently impassioned. This music is light and delicate.
Four Pieces for violin and piano, opus 7 is a four movement work that displays the atonal qualities for which he is renowned. The movements are considered short from a conventional viewpoint. The trio expertly interpreted the music making it scrappy, scratchy and somewhat creepy. The intensity of their playing the notes and keeping the spaces between the notes is what made this piece inspiring.
The last Webern feature was Three Little Pieces for cello and piano, opus 11, no 1. These are among Webern‘s best known works. They are extreme brief. The melody is reduced to groups of two or three notes, and phrases are concise. The trio’s playing was ethereal.
The last number for the first half was Franz Schubert’s Notturno D. 897. It was a contrast to the earlier Webern to hear the beautiful instrumentation in this work. The piano opens with a series of rolling chords followed by a song-like duet for the strings. The trio made the music flow easily between the strings. The piano then repeats the theme before there is an agitated central section and a return to the main theme on the piano with a quiet close. You could sense the perfect harmony among the three players.
The second half was comprised of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat major, opus 97, Archduke. Written in 1811, it was Beethoven’s last piano trio composition. If the first half of the concert seemed to highlight the strings, this piece featured the piano as lead instrument. Whereas the first half concentrated on the harmonious blending of instruments, Beethoven illustrated the individuality of each of the four instruments… violin, cello, and right and left hands on the piano. The trio were masters in all delivering a perfect performance.
I appreciated the Vienna Piano Trio not just for their superb musicianship. I loved their intense dedication for being present with every note and between every note. It was an evening of exquisitely delightful music.
Originally published in Ottawa Life Magazine, July 18, 2017