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[MUSIC REVIEW] TANGLEWOOD, Schubert Piano Trio, Yefim Bronfman

Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Seiji Ozawa Hall

GIL SHAHAM, violin

Franz Schubert, Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat, D. 898 (opus 99)
Tchaikovsky, Piano Trio in A minor, Opus 50

review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living magazine

(Lenox, Mass., July 12, 2006) -- You couldn't really ask for much more, other than more, than what you got last night at Ozawa Hall, with the Bronfman-Shaham-Mork trio version of Schubert's Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat.

Part of a program originally intended as an All-Schubert program to include the Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat (which was replaced by Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor), the piece nevertheless stood on its own as this sort of thing at its finest, both in terms of trio playing in general and Schubert in particular.

All the Schubertian characteristics were in evidence: the lush melodicism, the playful variations; the provocative time changes and modulations. It was easy to hear, too, how generations of musicians to come, including Scott Joplin and Randy Newman, would build entirely new genres upon a foundation of Schubert.

The piece boasts a famous, abstract opening with an irregular dance meter before the piano plays the jaunty, heroic theme that we will hear many times again, in many varieties and with a lot of spice. The strings grabbed the major key melody from the piano and turned it minor, dragging down the piano, but Bronfman resisted and took it back and brought it up and down the keyboard, and then back up before passing it off into Mork's hands, and he slowed it down before Shaham picked it up and played it on violin.

Every time the piece threated to become too lighthearted it turned darker, but then every time it threatened to wallow in self-pity someone would grab it and rescue it from the murkiness of anxiety. The first of the four movements boasted a premature climax that was over the top dramatic to the point of hysteria. After a digression the original theme returned and was then repeated elaborately and endlessly, including a particular turn by Bronfman in which he seemed to be channelling Chico Marx (and not for the last time of the evening, either) while Mork played pizzicato counterpoint on cello.

The second movement began as a piano-cello duet with a different theme (hinting at Randy Newman's "I'll Be Home"), picked up by the violin as a slow ballad. Ornamentation was the name of the game, as the melody kept slipping effortlessly into different variations and key changes, like a river flowing around bends and down waterfalls, all very organic but more emotional than logical. Shaham played very sweetly and with a touching vibrato, and Mork doubled the melody while Bronfman played a haunting, melodramatic dance tune.

The scherzo, as expected, opened as a jaunty dance propelled by a piano line of single notes echoed by the strings throughout the octaves. The concluding rondo movement was a showcase for Bronfman, who has a magical touch on the keyboard, able to evoke widely divergent textures phrase by phrase, such that one phrase could sound like he was playing vibes and the next would be full of distinct, staccato drumlike notes. Mork and Shaham were visibly thrilled to ride the piece to the end, Shaham repeatedly sawing so hard that the momentum made him pop up out of his chair.

As I came to hear Schubert, and was completely satisfied with the first piece, I decided to skip the Tchaikovsky and call it a night.

--review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living magazine

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