By Gigi Yellen
A piano trio plays an all-Beethoven concert. So? So pianist David White’s sparkling standup delivery of script-free program notes, his hammy interpretations at the keyboard, and his jazz-combo-like connections with cellist Meg Brennand and violinist James Garlick combine to make an Onyx concert memorable. The program was smartly constructed, opening with Beethoven’s first published work—his first piano trio—and concluding with his majestic “Archduke.” In between, and especially well served by White’s intro, Beethoven’s much revised and strangely dramatic elaboration on a lightweight theme, the “Kakadu” variations.
Onyx has found its just-right performance venue in the intimacy of Town Hall Seattle’s downstairs space. White’s expressive gestures, his seasoned wit and enthusiastic keyboard approach, combine with Brennan’s openhearted precision to support young Garlick’s developing technique and increasingly lyrical lines. The three took great care with Beethoven’s signature dynamic shifts and tricky rhythms. You might have called this concert “Fun with Beethoven,” except that the serious stuff received its due, too.
Hats off to the trio for dedicating this concert, in the spirit of “all one human family,” to those in Japan struggling with the effects of last week’s earthquake/tsunami.
Not to put program note writers out of business, but the effect of notes spoken before a performance by a live player with a sense of humor and history is much punchier than scrambling to absorb paragraphs of tiny print before the lights go down. Watching David White confirmed what I felt after a recent, similar experience at a Simple Measures concert: as an audience member, I retain more and engage more with the information about the music when it comes this way.
White is also a composer, and Onyx will premiere his new Piano Trio on an all-American concert June 17 at St. Mark’s. The final concert of this season’s Onyx series downstairs at Town Hall will be an all-Schubert evening on May 29. http://www.onyx.com