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CHAMBER REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, January 16, 2016
Kahane-Swenson-Brey Trio. Jeffrey Kahane, piano; Joseph Swenson, violin; Carter Brey, cello

Kahane/Swenson/Brey Trio

SCINTILLATING SCHUBERT IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 16, 2016

Audience members in Weill Jan. 16 that expecting a balanced, albeit conservative chamber music evening received a slight surprise with a scintillating Schubert Trio that upstaged two otherwise splendid works.

Schubert a surprise? In the hands of violinist Joseph Swenson, cellist Carter Brey and ensemble leader Jeffrey Kahane the E-Flat Trio (Op. 100) in 39 minutes never seemed long, though all repeats were honored. Musicians refer to the composer’s “heavenly length” and this performance underscored the work’s inspired thematic development. In the first two movements there was a joyous spread of chords, the melodies and modulations unfolding naturally at a brisk tempo. Mr. Brey’s wide vibrato in the stately C Minor march theme opened the Andante, the inward agitation set against the rapid trills in the piano and Mr. Swenson’s deft bowing. The last reentry of the theme was lovely and disappeared almost mysteriously.

Elegant and jaunty dance-like music was well captured in the final two movements, the pianist impressive in the speed of repeated notes and a faint feeling of gypsy rhythms. Mr. Brey repeated with careful emphasis the Andante’s march, showcasing how the composer can so quickly turn from happy lyricism to somber propriety.

This striking and masterly reading generated a standing ovation from the audience of 500, but not the “anticipated” encore of a movement of Paul Schoenfeld’s Café Music.

Schumann’s first Trio and Mozart’s E Major Trio (K. 542) comprised the concert’s first half, with both receiving virtuoso performance. In the Mozart, as with the Schubert, the working out of primary and secondary themes and counterpoint was perfection, and the powerful role of the piano always at the fore. Nothing lags when Mr. Kahane is sailing along with Presto half-pedaled runs, but this music can handle such speed and the ensemble never faltered. The broad Cantilena of the Andante showcased luscious violin and cello interplay.

In the final Rondo a “concerto” approach was taken, broad and festive. Mr. Swenson’s thematic projection and intonation was impressive.

Schumann wrote his D Minor Trio, the first of three, in 1847, and has a feverish energy with a hint of menace and gloom. Mr. Brey had the initial leading role here with graceful abbreviated upward runs, but overall the movement, even with the tumult, seemed extended. However the vivacious Scherzo (“Lebhaft”) seemed short, even with numerous repeats of the main phrase reminiscent of constant repeats in the composer’s E Flat Quartet (Op. 44). Even the most exquisite theme can become banal with manifold repetitions.

In the concluding “Mit Feuer” movement Mr. Kahane’s boisterous pianist had several telling inner voices but handed voice leading to the violin and cello. The driving Accelerando near the end brought an exciting conclusion to what must be Schumann’s best trio, and the performers oddly appeared both exhausted and energetic when taking bows.

Nicki Bell contributed to this review