REVIEW: Felici Trio

I could be wrong, but I think it was pianist Artur Schnabel who is known for summing up the not-so-obvious with the statement: “Mozart is too easy for amateurs and too difficult for professionals.”  Thankfully, the Felici Trio, in their concert stop at UT Music Hall on Tuesday, did an excellent job of showing us otherwise.

Violinist Rebecca Hang introduced their opening work, the Mozart Piano Trio in C Major, K. 548, by remarking how Mozart and other composers of the latter quarter of the eighteenth century were unconsciously “liberating” ensemble instruments in genres that had been keyboard-centric.  And, in fact, that is certainly how the trio performed the Mozart.  Their interpretation was quite egalitarian in its conversational qualities between the instruments.  This willingness to share and contribute brought a wonderful freshness to the work that was constantly entertaining and captivating.  The richness and warmth of the Andante cantabile was extremely satisfying.

I should note that I have in the past soundly criticized the acoustics of the UT Music Hall. (pardon the pun)  For whatever arcane reason, the space seems to favor certain instrumental timbres, such as strings… they seem to leap right off the stage.  At the same time, woodwinds and percussion seems to be suffer a deadening effect.  Whether this was coming into play for this trio, I can only speculate.  Whether acoustics, ensemble choice, or a combination of the two, the piano did not dominate in any of the three pieces.

The second work on the program was Café Music by the contemporary American composer Paul Schoenfield.  Felici Trio Cellist Brian Schuldt described the work as a blend of Dixie and klezmer textures.  I thought that a bit simplistic, but not completely inaccurate.  Schoenfield, himself, said:

“The idea to compose Café Music first came to me in 1985 after sitting in one night for the pianist at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. … My intention was to write a kind of high-class dinner music — music which could be played at a restaurant, but might also (just barely) find its way into a concert hall. The work draws on many of the types of music played by the trio at Murray’s. For example, early 20th century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are all represented. A paraphrase of a beautiful Chassidic melody is incorporated in the second movement.”

In my view, Schoenfield is underestimating his own work, or at least, misjudging the effect of its compelling energy, the complexity that demands attention, and its driving rhythm and lucrative textures.  I, for one, would find it hard to dine while listening to it.

The program concluded with Édouard Lalo’s Piano Trio No. 3 in A Minor.  If, in the other two works, the dialog between instruments had been deliberately accentuated, that characteristic is quite up front in the Lalo, particularly between the Hang’s violin and Schuldt’s cello.  The ensemble built the excitement throughout, little by little, with careful gradations and attention to the dynamic qualities of individual passages.  The finale, Allegro molto, was a captivating whirlwind of energy and strength that was the perfect example of the equal conversational  footing displayed by the ensemble all evening.

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