Hahn, deMaine and Zhu - three outstanding musicians

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Hahn, deMaine and Zhu - three outstanding musicians

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Jan 08, 2015 9:36 pm

Chamber Music. The term suggests an intimate, refined and polite musical experience. A small ensemble performing a small-scale work, usually in a smaller venue.

And then there is the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50, a work that is symphonic in scale and duration, virtually exploding from the stage in intensity and emotion. True, it’s written for the traditional ensemble of three—violin, cello and piano—and performed on Monday night, January 5, in the intimate confines of the Perelman Theater under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. But while meeting the definition of chamber music, in performance, this piece has the impact of a much larger work. It was also a showpiece for the evening’s superb ensemble, consisting of world renowned violinist Hilary Hahn, along with her less well known but equally accomplished colleagues, cellist Robert deMaine and pianist Natalie Zhu.

The piece is rather unusually structured. There are essentially two movements, although there are further divisions within these movements. The second movement is mainly a theme and variations, but these are highly imaginative and extensive variations, including a Mazurka, a music box segment, and a Fugue. The other striking quality of this piece is the virtuosic piano part. The piano is no mere accompaniment, but a brilliant partner to the string instruments. I’ve heard this piece before in recorded versions, but it was a thrill to hear and see it performed so well by these three outstanding musicians.

I must mention a bit of comic relief in the last section: Tradition holds that the pianist is entitled to a page-turner, but the violinist and cellist are on their own. When Hahn reached the final pages of the music, the last page was evidently in the path of a stream of air from the ventilation system, and kept closing. In between notes (and there are lots of notes in this section!), she valiantly made several efforts to keep the page from turning with her hand and her bow, and even while playing, with the scroll of her violin, until the pianist’s page turner rushed over to tame the errant page of music. Of course, while her struggles may have elicited a few chuckles from the audience, I’m sure it was less than funny for Hahn.

Naturally, the high impact Tchaikovsky Trio was the final work on the program. The evening began with somewhat less intensity with the Debussy Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor. This was Debussy’s last completed composition, and what a crowning conclusion it offers for his body of work. Yes, it’s “impressionistic,” but by no means a light and airy work. Muscular at times, impish at other times, and always expressive, Hahn and Zhu provided a persuasive rendition of this beautiful work.

Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Cello (yes, that’s how he entitled it), Op. 5, No. 2, may be familiar territory for cellists, but it was new to me. The year of composition (1796) and Opus number may mark this as “early” Beethoven, but it is, in some respects, almost a work of the Romantic era. Perhaps I’m just reacting to the rich and yearning sound of the cello, and deMaine’s passionate performance. But whatever the proper category for this piece may be, for this listener, this introductory hearing was an emotional and totally satisfying experience.

I’m looking forward to future performances by this ensemble.

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