STRING TRIO MAKES RAVISHING SOUNDS
By Lawrence Budmen
Ernst von Dohnanyi (1877-1960) was one of Hungary's most significant musical figures. He actively promoted the work of his contemporaries Bartok and Kodaly and joined them in forging a strongly nationalistic musical language. With the upheavals of World War 2, he left Hungary and eventually settled in the United States. He accepted a teaching position at Florida State University in Tallahassee and continued to compose and perform until his death. (Among his students at FSU were his grandson Christoph von Dohnanyi- now a world famous conductor- and University of Miami music professor and pianist-harpsichordist extraordinaire Frank Cooper.) Recordings continue to document his remarkable piano virtuosity. The Jacques Thibaud Trio (of Berlin) performed his "Serenade in C Major," Opus 10 as the centerpiece of their concert at the Mainly Mozart Festival on June 8, 2003 at the Omni Colonnade Hotel, presented by the Coral Gables Cultural Affairs Council.
Dohnanyi's early work was greatly admired by no less formidable a figure than Johannes Brahms. Dohnanyi was greatly influenced by Brahms and 19th century musical romanticism. The "Serenade in C Major" was composed in 1901. The score fuses romanticism with an emerging Hungarian musical nationalism. The score's five movements are filled with beautiful melodies and brilliant string writing. The Jacques Thibaud Trio produced ravishing sounds of great tonal beauty. This remarkable group played this technically daunting work from memory. Violist Philip Douvier produced large, golden tonal hues in the haunting theme of the Romanza. The Tema con Variazioni was filled with strongly individual musical statements. Here Dohnanyi transforms a simple theme into a brilliantly varied series of musical episodes. The trio made each variation standout through the subtle dynamics and driving intensity of their playing. The opening Marcia and concluding Rondo were highlighted by the dazzling pyrotechnics and brilliant leadership of violinist Burkhard Maiss. Here was a wonderful tribute to a composer whose music should be performed more frequently.
The Dohnanyi score was framed by two piano quartets. For Mozart, the key of G Minor called forth some of his most dramatic, melancholy scores - the Symphonies Nos. 25 and 40 and the "Quartet for Piano and Strings," K.478 which the Thibaud Trio performed with guest pianist Tao Lin. Lin's crystalline playing and the warmth of the string trio's tone graced the dark beauty of the second movement Andante. The concluding Rondo was played with style, aristocratic spaciousness, and elegance. The musicians' elasticity of phrasing was a joy to hear. A memorable performance of a great score!
The "Quartet for Piano and Strings in G Minor," Opus 25 is one of Brahms's true masterworks. In the first movement Allegro, the burnished glow of the string playing was awesome. Lin provided brilliant pianism - every note beautifully articulated and blended into a perfect ensemble context .Here was the essence of great chamber music playing. The Thibaud Trio beautifully captured the restless spirit of the Intermezzo: Allegro ma non troppo. The sublime beauty of the Andante con motto was glorious. The sudden march like interjection was played with commanding power. The Finale: Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto seemed to be driven by an internal musical flame. All of the music's gypsy fire (shades of the composer's "Hungarian Dances") was projected with panache and brio. Lin's arpeggios dazzled the ear.
In response to the audience's standing, cheering ovation, Lin and the string players offered more Brahms for an encore - the Andante from the "Quartet for Piano and Strings in C Minor." This music is a lyrical outpouring of infinite melody. The richly textured playing and dark, bronze like tone of cellist Uwe Hirth-Schmidt were glorious. The ensemble playing was gorgeous. Great Brahms playing and great music making!
The Thibaud Trio is one of Europe's great chamber music groups. This trio's future appearances are eagerly awaited. Their tribute to Dohnanyi and magnificent playing produced a concert to remember!