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CHAMBER REVIEW
Oakmont Concert Series / Thursday, August 12, 2010
Lincoln Piano Trio

Chicago's Lincoln Trio Playing Beethoven

A DRAMATIC THIRD TIME FOR THE LINCOLN AT OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beginning the fall chamber music season August 12 in Oakmont, Chicago’s Lincoln Trio played a disparate and demanding program with consummate artistry before 200 in Berger Auditorium.
But it was not the previously announced program, as the group, in their third appearance on the Oakmont Concert Series, dropped the Trio by contemporary composer Lara Auerbach, and began the first half with Bloch’s Three Nocturnes for Trio, written in 1924.

But no matter, as the playing of the tightly-knit Bloch work, each piece well under three minutes, was memorable. Using mutes throughout, the somber and elegiac First Nocturne spotlighted the Lincoln’s exact sonic balance. The bucolic and lyrical Second Nocturne was indeed a seductive night piece, and moved easily to the finale, an initial whirlwind of nocturnal sound leading to a contemplative ending. Clearly the audience was in for an afternoon of first-cabin chamber music.

Beethoven’s early Trio in B-Flat Major, Op. 11, closed the first half, and received a high-energy reading from the first frantic opening chords. Pianist Marta Aznavoorian’s upward-bound scales were always crystalline, the passages a proverbial string of pearls, and she traded themes in the opening Allegro con Brio with cellist David Cunliffe. The cello opens the lovely Adagio and Mr. Cunliffe used subtle ritards and chaste phrasing in the noble melody to great effect. A slow descending run in the piano ended a glorious movement.

The 1797 composition is subtitled “Gassenhauer” because of a street song used in the concluding Allegretto, and is a theme with variations. The Lincoln’s playing established (if such a thing was needed) that the Bonn master was the most adept writer ever of the variation form, and the music unfolded effortlessly and with precise instrumental attacks and faultless string pitch.

The second part was devoted almost entirely to Smetana’s big G Minor Trio, Op. 15. There is plenty of Schumann here, and more than a little Liszt, and the work is sprawling and in less virtuosic hands can lack cohesion. The Lincoln Trio nailed it, synchronizing their bowings and phrase endings as one instrument. It opens with a Moderato assai violin solo, fetchingly played by Desirée Ruhstrat, and Ms. Ruhstrat’s top notes were beams of light all afternoon. As I remember from the last Lincoln performance in Berger, she doesn’t seek a strong leadership role, wide vibrato or a big tone. But as one musician said, it was “big enough.” The piano occasionally covered the other instruments, Ms. Aznavoorian’s virtuosity in flood tide.

The middle movement is a mix of Czech folk songs and has echoes of Brahms, with a curious ending, still in the Allegro man non agitato tempo marking. Speed and power dominated the finale, Brahmsian in depth and recalling the angst of his Op. 60 Piano Quartet, written 20 years later than the Smetana. Was a debt due to this Czech composer, and not to a favorite of Brahms, Dvorak? It was a soaring, joyous and surprising succinct performance, the ersatz funeral march stated with panache, and generated a standing ovation even though one more work remained to be played.

Brahms returned to complete the program, in a transcription of his Hungarian Dance No. 1. The 21 Dances are heard in all sorts of orchestrations and small-group versions, stemming from the original for two-piano, and received a performance of singular rhythmic drive and Magyar spice. Visions of old Vienna (and Budapest) were in the air.

One encore was offered, a Piazzola tango. Piazzola’s work is undergoing broad interest these days, often as encores, and there have been several of the tangos played recently at Oakmont by Gila Goldstein and Gustavo Romero. But here, as throughout this superb recital, the Lincoln showed their fastidious attention to ensemble and integrated sound. The whole was indeed greater than the sum of the parts.

Impresario Robert Hayden contributed to this review.