It’s surely the case that most of the readers of this review have never heard of the Swedish woman composer Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929), whose career ran into the standard gender roadblocks of the Victorian era into which she was born.
But Andrée’s music is well worth hearing, and last Sunday (May 12), the Chameleon Musicians chamber music series in Fort Lauderdale closed its current season with a piano trio by this composer that stands up well with the Schumann and Mendelssohn trios as significant contributions to the genre.
Chameleon founder Iris van Eck, a Dutch-born cellist who has long championed female composers (she released a fascinating disc of cello music by women composers in 2007), was joined by violinist Dmitri Pogorelov and pianist Misha Dacic for the Andrée trio, which was featured on a program with music by Schubert and Tchaikovsky at the Josephine Leiser Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
This Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, written in 1884 (there is another one in C minor that was published posthumously), is expertly written for three estimable soloists. While the music is fully in the tradition of the Germanic music of its day — Andrée studied with the fine Danish composer Neils Gade, a close friend of Mendelssohn — its themes are elegant and memorable, and passionate besides. It’s sincere, beautifully crafted music, and piano trios looking for something out of the ordinary, but in the Romantic tradition, would do well to program this lovely work.
The first movement is built out of two contrasting themes in good sonata fashion, the first in the minor, begun by the violin and soaring above a busy, rolling piano part, and the second in the relative major trading between violin and cello, and with a similar kind of rising shape to both. The themes are not especially distinctive, perhaps, but they work admirably well, and they have a light, flexible quality that’s very attractive; there are no gigantic, painfully dark passages to be found here.
The second movement, sweet and gently sentimental, a yearning main theme, first heard in piano, then cello, is paired with an ancillary idea that is more akin to Schubert or even Brahms, before the music returns to the more conventional main theme (had Andrée done more with the second idea, she might have had an even better piece). Nevertheless, it’s a pretty and heartfelt movement.
The finale is an exuberant Rondo in G major with an expansive, rhythmic main theme that in Sunday’s performance had a hint of folk energy otherwise not present in the piece, set off against a light, charming motif that was shared in turn by all three instruments. It makes for an attractive summing-up of a very respectable work.
The performance Sunday was important because it resurrected this piece and brought it to a new audience, and of the three movements, perhaps the second was the best-played (it had an unexpected fourth instrument accompanying it in the final bars, when a passing train horn momentarily happened to be roughly in B-flat just as the movement was closing; it sounded like a trio of bassoons underpinning the last measures). In the slow movement, each of three players performed with taste and restraint, even as they gave the music its full emotional complement.
The opening movement was firm and strong, but somewhat labored; it sounded at times as though the three were trying too hard for music that doesn’t benefit by it. The same was true of the finale, which seemed rarely to pull back from its very powerful opening, particularly in the case of Dacic, who hammered out the rondo’s triplets with full force each time. Still, the three musicians brought to this often difficult and sparkling score commitment and thorough musicianship, and the listening public owes them a debt for unearthing worthy music that in many ways is far more representative of its time than the better-known works from this period.
Sunday’s concert opened with the Notturno (in E-flat, D. 897) of Schubert, probably the original slow movement of his Trio in B-flat but discarded and later published separately. In style it is similar to the slow movement of his C major String Quintet, with its sense of rapt near-stillness, the melody barely budging. Here, Dacic began the work with almost glacial calm, setting the stage for Pogorelov and van Eck to enter with the obsessive, static main theme. The middle section was played with a persuasive feeling of tumult and emotional anguish before returning to the serenity of the opening pages.
The Piano Trio (in A minor, Op. 50) of Tchaikovsky, which closed the afternoon, is one of the most-loved such works in the canon, and it’s also one of the longest, with a massive coda at the end of the second movement that brings back the doleful, haunting main theme. The Chameleon musicians gave it a powerful and searching performance, alive to the variety of its many second-movement variations, and entirely in sympathy with the deep grief of its opening and closing pages.
Among the highlights were van Eck’s initial statement of the theme, which immediately seized the attention, followed just as ably by Pogorelov, playing in the all-out style we associate with the Russian tradition. Dacic was especially impressive throughout the trio, which has a very busy, tricky piano part in the first movement that lets up not a bit in the second movement, which in its 11 variations is a survey of different styles, many of them written in a complicated and bravura way. This piece can’t be played adequately without a really good pianist, and Dacic, a familiar face on South Florida stages for years now, is more than up to the task.
That said, his powerful playing also made for some balance problems; the Trio would have benefited from some less aggressive piano playing and a better blending of the three instruments. It’s true that Tchaikovsky has written it in a piano-heavy way, but there were some subtleties that could have been brought out with some more keyboard moderation. All of which doesn’t take away from what was in most respects a gripping reading of a substantial work, and an involving way to end another season of thoughtfully programmed chamber music concerts featuring some of South Florida’s best musicians.
The Chameleon Musicians’ upcoming season has concerts scheduled for Oct. 6, Nov. 24, Feb. 23, March 30, and May 4. For more information, call 954-761-3435 or visit www.chameleonmusicians.org.