Young men's music

Portraits of composers as young men, in a program at Meany by the Amelia Trio.
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Amelia Piano Trio: youth must be served

Portraits of composers as young men, in a program at Meany by the Amelia Trio.

It was youth night earlier this week at the UW World series chamber music program, with a youngish piano trio playing works from great composers'ꀙ adolescence or early adulthood. The Amelia Trio, who have been playing together for a decade or so and who have enjoyed a prestigious National Public Radio residency, programmed trios by Shostakovich, Beethoven, and Chopin written when their composers were 16, 21, and 18 respectively.

The standout piece in terms of compositional accomplishment was Beethoven'ꀙs third trio, in C minor, from his Opus 1 set. Written in 1792 just as Beethoven arrived in Vienna to take lessons from Haydn, it shows an astonishing confidence, melodic fertility, and grasp of form, and in the opening Allegro con Brio movement especially an arrestingly powerful and impassioned voice. The slow movement is a model of genial inventiveness, and the final bars of the closing Prestissimo provide the work with a subtle and unexpected end that would have delighted Mozart, classical music'ꀙs most skillful and unpredictable composer of endings.

Shostakovich'ꀙs Trio No 1 in C major was written as an entry requirement for the Moscow conservatory and was apparently also influenced by the composer'ꀙs feelings during an adolescent romance. Very rarely heard, its single movement is a fascinating mixture of influence, originality, and precocious technical assurance particularly in the idiomatic writing for the instruments individually and in combination. Arensky and Rimsky-Korsakov seemed the main influences on the lush melodies and harmonization that dominated much of the piece, but it also included a spiky, quirky, and sardonic theme first played on the cello — a passage that strongly suggested things to come.

The trio by the young Chopin which brought the program to a close was composed for the standard violin, cello, and piano combination. But Anthea Kreston, the violinist, explained that in researching the work she had come across a letter from Chopin written after its composition saying that he wished he had written it for viola instead of violin. Adding, engagingly, that she played both instruments, Kreston proceeded to meet the composer'ꀙs retrospective wish and led the piece with her viola, giving us a rare indeed probably unique opportunity to hear it not as written but as subsequently re-imagined by its composer.

It is a very engaging chamber work, though it suggests some difficulty on Chopin'ꀙs part with extended sonata form composition. It improves as it goes along and is notable for a deeply felt Adagio and a charmingly exuberant Polonaise at the end which foreshadows not just the later piano pieces in that form but also the finales of the two piano concertos.

The Amelia Trio delivered the program with consistently high standards of playing on their individual instruments. They also play very well together, interpretation and balance being harmonious and musical throughout. It is by no means unusual for pianos to stand out in the trio form. This is partly because of the instrument'ꀙs brighter and more percussive sonority. But the great trio composers were also keyboard players themselves and indeed most of them, including all three composers on this program were noted virtuosi at the piano. Reiko Azawa, the Amelia'ꀙs pianist, was equal to the sometimes fierce demands in the Beethoven and Chopin pieces and played throughout with noted artistry. I particularly admired, for example, her playing of the rising arpeggios in the trio to the minuet movement in the Beethoven.

If there was anything lacking overall it was strong projection and impassioned involvement with the music. There might have been more sustained and extrovert 'ꀜbrio'ꀝ in the opening movement of the Beethoven, and a less laid back even seemingly casual response to the vigorous and folksy dance quality in the finale of the Chopin. This might have turned a satisfyingly interesting and musical concert into something rather more than that.


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