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CHAMBER REVIEW

Tilden Trio Feb. 11 in Angelico Hall

NOVEL AND FAMILIAR WORKS FROM THE TILDEN TRIO

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 11, 2018

North Coast chamber music fans have the luxury of two fine resident piano trios, with the frequently performing Trio Navarro at Sonoma State, and the Tilden Trio at San Rafael’s Dominican University. The Tilden plays less often, but their Feb. 11 performance brought several hundred to Angelico Hall to hear a sterling program.

A novelty opened the concert, Hummel’s E-Flat Major Trio, Op. 93, and it was probably a local premiere. There were flashes of his contemporary Beethoven in the expansive allegro, though taken at a slower than usual tempo. Pianist June Choi Oh played with smooth scales and prominence, and Peter Wyrick’s cello line sounded full. Violinist Sean Oliver had intonation problems in the initial thematic statements but quickly found his footing.

Hummel’s larghetto was played with careful emotion, and in the concluding finale the piano part was quite fast, with the left hand pedal point sporadically blurred (by design?). Much of the music had a fugal character and was a refreshing and convincing break from the more common period trios of Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven.

From the stage Ms. Oh made announcements and the trio moved to Jennifer Higdon’s Pale Yellow, an 8-minute part of a 2003 composition. As with most of this composer’s work Pale Yellow was easily approachable, and in this case atmospheric. The cello and violin have the big themes, the latter mostly in the high register. The Tilden played it as a long-line lament, sad but also soaring with soft marching chords from Ms. Oh. Each instrument seamlessly rose and receded into the sonic mix, and this saturated-with-color score finally resolved with the musical sun coming out. A splendid choice.

As a consummate orchestral cellist Mr. Wyrick seldom is in the soloist spotlight, but was in this concert partnering with Ms. Oh and playing Chopin’s effervescent Op. 3 Introduction et Polonaise Brillante. It was performed at a very slow tempo and with the cellist’s well-known dynamic control, but was not note perfect. The operatic ending (Donizetti? Bellini?) was elegant. He played without score.

Concluding the program was Schubert’s seminal first Trio (Op. 99) in B-Flat Major, and here was the best ensemble playing of the afternoon. In the opening allegro a lot is going on, and Mr. Wyrick’s projection of the big second theme was lovely. In the famous andante the Tilden choose a pokey tempo, as in the classic Cortot/Casals/Thibaud recording, but as in current interpretations they avoided the latter Trio’s uber-romantic ritards and phrasing. The violin and cello duet over a slow rocking piano line was beguiling. There was even a nod towards ländler-like phrases, playful and exquisite. The scherzo playing was trim, breezy and not overplayed.

Tight ensemble continued in the rondo finale, a long but satisfying collection of lovely themes and effects. Often listeners new to Schubert are perplexed, saying “not another repeat!” or “it’s so long,” but for the Tilden musicians it was a heavenly length. The continual contrasts and urgent piano dissonances were compelling, and the 1828 work finished with flair and loud audience applause.

No encore was offered. Pianist Kevin Kenner continues the Guest Artist Series April 8 in Angelico with an all-Chopin program.