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Lighting the fuse at Music Mountain

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Mon Jun 10th, 2019

Kristyna   , Benjamin Hochman, Fred Sherry

The magic of Music Mountain has begun its summer spell at Gordon Hall. The opening concert of the season featured Benjamin Hochman on piano. Three trios from the great three, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms were performed.

Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502, was an early piece written for pianoforte (1796). Mozart was inspired to write for this new instrument (and developing market) which delivered a much fuller sound. While Mozart is often a private composer, this three-movement piece is perhaps Mozart’s most extroverted and accomplished piano trio with a lively conversational balance with violin, played sensitively by Alexi Kenney and accompanied with robust resonance on Fred Sherry’s Cello, whose nickname is Orange Beauty and bears the amusing tag “Property of the Viceroy” on its traveling case.

Hochman lead on the opening Allegro on a contemporary Steinway with a lively cantabile theme and its delicious plunge into a vortex of virtuoso figuration while leaving deft diminuendo in his wake. The following Larghetto brims with conversational give-and-take on where to take the melody. The livelier concluding Allegretto offers a glimpse of what would become sturm und drang with fierce emotional contrast highlighting both stillness, tenderness, and rushing excitement. Mozart’s penchant for dramatic, racing triplets empowers the emotion of the concluding movement. While Hochman’s piano gently and politely led the first movement and engaged in searching collegial conversation with the violin and cello in the second movement, the piano masterfully dominates the last movement with bravura brilliance. Hochman delivered the intellectual clarity of improvised exploration as he hewed to a confident, outgoing, social thrust.

Clarinet Trio in A minor, Opus 114 (1891) by Johannes Brahms featured Kristyna Petisková on clarinet. Born in Prague in 1995, she has won many international awards and has performed throughout Europe, including playing for Ireland’s RTÉ Orchestra. She is now pursuing a degree at Bard College with a second major in Theater Studies. Her performance excelled in subtle, seductive, soft modulations. Inspired by Anton Stadler’s virtuoso clarinet playing, Brahms’ last four chamber works were devoted to the clarinet.

While this trio is labeled a clarinet trio, it might well have been called a cello trio, so important s the role of the cello in this work wherein the cello opens the door with a high Romantic melody with Hochman’s piano replying with a triplet. But it is the liquid dialogue between cello and clarinet that creates the male/female dialectic with contrary impulses that propel the melody forward. The Second movement Adagio turns philosophical and speculative in mood and despite the density of the music a genial relaxation pervades the intricacies of flirting navigation. The innocent and naïve opening of the clarinet in the Third movement appears to mock Brahms’ sardonic wit, yet Brahms turns this sentimental waltz into self-parody, thus freeing himself from commitment to an emotional simplicity that judges innocence to be inferior to the wisdom of age, which Sherry’s cello suavely asserted. The descending melodic thirds of the Fourth movement with the piano forcefully intruding provides an air of mysterious resolution: all three instruments appear to deliver a resoundingly curt dismissal of Romanticism as the language of the future.

After intermission dominated by high-flying, streaking, cirro clouds that forecast coming rain, Ludwig von Beethoven’s unusual 1808 excursion into Gothic was next, the Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, no. 1, nicknamed “Ghost,” although the only ghost I can find in the eerie second movement is the haunting claustrophobia of uneasy confinement amid insomniac nightmare. The opening Allegro brims with the satisfaction of a hard day’s work being satisfactorily accomplished. The following Largo welcomes the twilight and its insect songs and appears to be ready for the refreshment of sleep which does not arrive. The trial of immobility amid darkness takes a dramatic turn. Matches have been misplaced and can’t be found in the dark. There is naught to do but think of melody, yet that does not bear fruit.

Relief finally appears with the first hint of dawn, which the Anglo-Saxons called utna, that shadowy, luminescent blue before the sun rises, a time of danger when armies attack or deliver a welcome hue that promises safety. The relieving joy of the reversal occurs—with such welcoming glimmers music can smile. There is even a run of quaintly amusing pizzicato expertly plucked by Kenny on violin. (In general Beethoven despised pizzicato and most often employs it in mocking fashion.) Another day of working with music is here. Long live that day!

And long live the sounds of music on Music Mountain which is now celebrating its 90th season in a convivial atmosphere where one can converse with complete strangers who harbor a love for the warmth and humanity that music provides. Next Sunday afternoon Music Mountain will feature one of the finest string quartets in the country, the Escher Quartet playing a program of Beethoven, Schubert, and Dvorak. You can read a recent review of their performance here.