Amelia Trio highlights early works by Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Chopin

The 2009/2010 UW World Series is well underway, bringing the best of dance, solo piano, and chamber music to Seattle audiences and the University of Washington community. Some have observed, this season’s line-up is less star-studded than in previous seasons. While this season might feature fewer marquis names, that doesn’t mean fewer marquis talents. Wednesday night’s visit by the Amelia Trio proved this all to well.

The Amelia Trio visited Meany Hall with a program of early compositions by three of classical music’s most popular composers: Shostakovich, Beethoven, and Chopin. None of the three composers are known primarily for their early piano trios. Shostakovich’s reputation rests primarily on the genius of his symphonies and string quartets. Chopin’s fame comes from his elegant to fiery music for solo piano. Beethoven’s legacy spans the entirety of his output because of his ever developing style. After all was said and done, the Amelia Trio’s warm, generous sound and their like-minded purpose proved the value of these three composers’ early piano trios.

Audiences are more accustomed to hearing Chopin’s solo piano music and his piano concertos than his Op. 9 trio for piano, violin, and cello. Even rarer, I am sure, is hearing the trio performed with a viola instead of a violin. But, that is exactly how the Amelia Trio performed the piece on Wednesday night. As violinist Anthea Kreston explained, the decision wasn’t arbitrary. In preparing to the piece on the road, Kreston investigated the history of the piece and learned, through several letters written by Chopin, he thought the piece would sound better with a viola instead of a violin. While the concept was inventive and based on the composer’s own thoughts, inserting the viola, didn’t work for me. The viola’s milky tone was too similar to the luxurious sound coming from Jason Duckles’s cello. Besides, my focus was on Reiko Aizawa’s decisive piano playing which drew a connection to later piano pieces by the composer.

The first half was more successful. The concert opened with Shostakovich’s Piano Trio Op. 8. We often think of Shostakovich as all angst and irony; a composer who bucked the Soviet regime in his music. Shostakovich’s Op. 8 trio, however, was composed when the composer was only 17 years old and was dedicated to an early love. In this early trio, Shostakovich’s aim was to throw off the 19th Century piano trio conventions. Shostakovich seems to combine the best of the form instead, drawing from the Russian piano trio repertory especially — Rachmaninov’s brooding, Tchaikovsky’s melodies, and Arensky’s lyricism.

The other early trio the group performed was Beethoven’s Op. 1 No. 3 trio. In four movements, the piece shows Haydn’s influence on the composer but it also, perhaps more effectively than the Shostakovich’s trio, shows a composer ready to disrupt and change the musical world. According to the program notes, Haydn even urged the young Beethoven to not publish the piece because it wasn’t in keeping with the “good taste” of the Classical period.  The Amelia Trio’s playing was pugnacious; Beethoven would have been proud.

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