Peoples’ Symphony Concerts End on a High Note with the Tempest Trio

This afternoon I attended the last presentation of the season by Peoples’ Symphony Concerts, the remarkable solo and chamber music series presented at Town Hall (Sundays) and Washington Irving High School (Saturdays). This after we had the Tempest Trio, a relatively new ensemble formed by three distinguished soloists, Violinist Ilya Kaler, Cellist Amid Peled, and Pianist Alon Goldstein. They performed Beethoven’s Trio in Bb, Op. 11, Bernstein’s Trio, and Dvorak’s Trio No. 3, Op. 65, adding as an encore the finale of Dvorak’s Trio No. 4.

It’s a bit unfair to Bernstein and Dvorak to put them on a program beginning with Beethoven, which means that the most accomplished piece comes first. Although this is very early Beethoven (1798), and was originally conceived for clarinet trio rather than violin, cello and piano, it is a major statement by the young composer, a really substantial work, and they played it with great energy and finesse.

Leonard Bernstein’s trio is a student composition. The composer was not yet out of his teens when he wrote it, and it is a real mish-mash of the influences being absorbed by the talented but as yet unschooled youth. Here and there are little hints of the composer to come, but he had not yet developed the capacity for inventing extraordinary melodic lines and jazzy rhythms that were to mark his best compositions of the post-graduate world! That said, it was fascinating to hear, and I hope the Tempest Trio will get a chance to record it.

Finally, the Dvorak. I find that Dvorak is frequently weakest in his first movements, where he is trying to make a big statement and ends up making lots of noise at excessive length. That certainly struck me as a problem with this piece. The melodic material was not distinguished enough to make this first movement particularly interesting. Dvorak was at his strongest in dance-like and song-like music, which is why the middle movements worked the best for me. The finale, like the first movement, struck me as over-extended and at times padded with busy connective tissue but without truly distinctive melodic materials. That said, the Tempest Trio played it all with great vigor.

My only complaint about the Tempest Trio is that I think these three soloists need to scale down their efforts at times and to remember that they are not playing as soloists when they play trios. Dynamic levels tended toward the very loud much of the time. They can all play much softer — I’ve heard all of them as soloists either in concert or on records — and they need to do it more often in this kind of repertory.

They have issued their first recording – Dvorak Trios 3 & 4 on Naxos – and it should be worth hearing. The Naxos connection will undoubtedly lead to a complete recording of the Dvorak trios, but I hope they have the opportunity to explore further and, as noted above, to record the Bernstein.

This was a great season at Peoples’ Symphony, despite the cancellation by Radu Lupu due to illness, and I look forward to their announcement of next season’s line-up, which should come soon.

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