Haydn is often given short shrift among the High Classical composers. Even Robert Schumann is believed to have dismissively compared him to “an old family friend whom one receives gladly and respectfully but has nothing new to tell us.” Just how wrong he was became amply evident when the Oberon piano trio performed the “old family friend’s” piano trio (Hoboken 27) in C major at the NIO auditorium at Dona Paula a few days ago.
Aner (piano), Semmler (violin), and Emanuilova (cello) astutely balanced vigour, subtlety, elegance and fiery passion in their playing of this “late’ trio, the first of the three “Bartolozzi trios” dedicated to Theresa Jansen Bartolozzi, a gifted pianist, in 1795. The cheerful opening Allegro had traces of the “accompanied sonata”, with the spotlight on the piano, and the delightful singing melodic line was exquisitely brought to the fore by Aner without dominating the stage or rendering his colleagues superfluous. The middle Andante basked in the sunny warmth that is so typically Haydn, although storm-clouds did gather fleetingly in the development section. The rollicking Finale: Presto, a Rondo Scherzo in all but name, was executed with impish wit and charm.
Brahms’ second piano trio (op. 87 in C major) is perhaps the freshest and most gratifying among all his piano trios. Typical of Brahms, the work offers a wealth of themes almost from the very outset. Brahms was his own harshest critic, and it is painful to think how many more such gems like this work were consigned to the flames by this perfectionist. Semmler and Emanuilova heartily relished the Romantic unison melodies, and Aner was wonderful especially in the effervescent Scherzo. The Oberon trio seemed to think and breathe together with penetrating insight and feeling throughout this four-movement work. Even the sporadic clapping between movements did not break their intense concentration or disturb their sense of camaraderie.
The Shostakovich (Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor, Opus 67) was the high point of the evening. (If memory serves correctly, the last time this work was performed in Goa was in 1989 when the Indus Piano trio came calling).
The work is, in Aner’s introductory words, a ‘lament, a musical memorial’ to the tragic loss of life in the Second World War. It began with a bleak harmonic passage in the cello in the high register, followed by an ‘echo’ by a muted senza vibrato violin, then in the piano underneath this texture. After a brief moment of calm, the movement (Andante-Moderato) quickened in pace, assuming a rather menacing air, hurtling along frenetically and then slowing down almost reluctantly at the end.
The second movement (Allegro non troppo) in particular saw virtuoso playing from all three, a veritable perpetuo moto for piano trio.
The next movement (Largo) opened with a solemn chordal progression in the piano, setting the stage for a typical ‘Jewish cantor’ lament in the violin, with the cello joining in a similar vein. If any work deserves to be a Holocaust anthem, this movement would top the list. The mood conveyed here transcends anger or grief or outrage or despair, leaving one drained, with an almost cathartic sense of emptiness.
The gigantic last movement (Allegretto-Adagio) came then as a ‘welcome’ antidote to this. An ostinato, staccato figure in the piano is then taken up by pizzicato violin, with pizzicato cello joining in the pulse. The piano then introduces a macabre idée fixe, (accompanied by pizzicato strumming in the strings), which stubbornly pervaded the work, surfacing repeatedly. The playing took on an almost manic energy in the inexorable push towards the end. The passacaglia-like chordal progression in the piano that opened the Largo is joined now by the strings. A plaintive statement by first the violin, then the cello is punctuated by soft pizzicato chords to end this masterpiece.
Such high-octane, electrically charged playing doesn’t come to us often, especially when it comes to chamber music. We hope that the Oberon piano trio will make return visits to us in the future.
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 24 February 2013)