A drizzly chill hung in the outdoor air, but the musical environment was warm inside Trinity Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon when the Georgian Chamber Players presented a concert that promised an Austro-Hungarian flavor, serving up works by Franz Schubert, Ernő Dohnányi and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Pianist Elizabeth Pridgen opened with a a solo piece, Schubert’s Impromptu in B-flat major, D.935, No. 3. It’s one of eight Impromptus for solo piano that Schubert composed in 1827 and one of four that were not published in his lifetime. This Impromptu takes the form of theme and variations. Pridgen’s performance was expressive and secure, leaving no sense of musical doubt about where she was going with it, while also showing her emotions on her face as she played.
Pridgen was then joined by violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti for another work by Schubert, the Rondo in B minor, D.895. It was written for Josef Slavík, a famous Bohemian violinist often compared to Paganini. The first edition, published after Schubert’s death, carried the title “Rondeau brillant,” and indeed the opening four bars, forte chords in double-dotted rhythmic patterns in the piano with a pair of high-velocity scales in the violin, give the nod to that moniker. Moretti brought a bold, forthright rendering to this music, well underpinned by Pridgen’s piano.
Violinist David Coucheron, violist Reid Harris and cellist Christopher Rex — all three principal chairs of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra — then came forth to perform the Serenade in C major, Op. 10, by Hungarian composer and pianist Dohnányi. His Serenade offers much variety in its five movements, and a special Gypsy verve in its concluding Rondo. One would expect that the three musicians would play in unified ensemble, but it felt especially good here in terms of tone and character of playing.
And while we usually hear (and write) about Coucheron’s lyrically translucent playing, here was heard something not often noted: a warm but exceptionally clear lower end of his range that enhanced the Hungarian flavor, particularly brought to light in that final movement, which begins with rustic, pulsing double-stop drones in viola and cello, over which a vibrant melody enters in the violin.
At the reception after the concert, Harris mentioned how important Dohnányi’s piece is to the string trio repertoire, in that not only are there far fewer prominent works for string trio than for string quartet, but that the character of string trio leaves the musicians more exposed, musically speaking, than does string quartet.
In the same conversation, Coucheron admitted that this was the first time he had ever played Dohnányi’s Serenade — then suddenly realized he had said that in front of a music critic. No cause for embarrassment, as it seemed well performed and was enjoyed by the audience. But also worth noting is that while it was the only piece Coucheron played in this concert, this was the eighth concert he had played in a span of seven days, with more coming in the next few days. He is not only an artist of high skill, but one who applies it with devotion to the point of exhaustion. Hopefully, he enjoyed a good night’s sleep as a reward.
The second half of the concert was the familiar Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1 by Beethoven, a.k.a. the “Ghost” Trio, performed by Pridgen, Moretti and Rex. It was a mainline performance, with no curveballs to the audience, a most satisfying performance for those who like their Beethoven straight up.
It is supposedly the bane of music critics not to find some kind of fault with a concert, but this performance presented no cause for acrid ink with which to fill a poison pen. To assuage that stereotypical journalistic obligation, however, there is one nit to pick.
This is the second time I’ve noticed that a core piece of chamber repertoire has been programmed this season by both the Georgian Chamber Players and the Atlanta Chamber Players. The “Ghost” Trio was played last month by the Atlanta Chamber Players, but more astonishing is that Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio was performed by both groups in different concerts on the very same day, November 11, at the same time of day. Coincidence? Surely.
Indeed, both pieces have significant place in the chamber music pantheon, making their presence on a program attractive to both musicians and audiences. But it would be nice if Atlanta’s two oldest prominent chamber ensembles could avoid stumbling over each other’s repertoire, even that much, within a given season.