John Frayne | Eroica Trio, BACH entertain Foellinger crowd

John Frayne | Eroica Trio, BACH entertain Foellinger crowd

The Eroica Trio, which performed in Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 13, offered a varied program of pleasant, as well as high-strung, chamber music. The two original members of the trio, pianist Erica Nickrenz and cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio, were joined by violinist Sara Parker, who entered the group in 2006.

The concert opened with a selection not listed in the program, the famous Chaconne movement of J. S. Bach's Solo Violin Partita No. 2, arranged by Anne Dudley for piano trio. It might have taken some members of the audience a little time to realize that they were not listening to what had been listed as the opening work in the program booklet, the famous "Adagio" supposedly by Tomaso Albinoni.

The "Chaconne" arrangement played by the Eroica Trio certainly offered a wider gamut of instrumental timbres than the original version for violin solo, but this arrangement makes the change from variation to variation more obvious, thereby giving a novel twist to this revered classic. The Eroica group played the "Chaconne" with their well-known intensity.

Next came the Eroica Trio's own arrangement of the Remo Giazotto "realization" of Albinoni's famous (or notorious) "Adagio in G Minor." Giazotto said that he based this arrangement on a 6-bar fragment found in one of Albinoni's manuscripts. It is widely recognized that this very popular work is really the work of Giazotto, and from what I have heard, the "fragment" has never been published, leading to the suspicion that it too was an invention. Forgery or not, the Adagio contains an enticing and sweeping melody that is more Romantic than Baroque, and the Eroica Trio version made the most of its immediate emotional appeal.

The 1944 Piano Trio No. 2 by Dimitri Shostakovich, which rounded out the first part of the program, was the wildest and most anguished music of the evening. This work was dedicated to a close friend of Shostakovich, the music critic and scholar Ivan Sollertinsky, who died in 1944.

In conveying the stark contrasts of this work, the Eroica Trio displayed much bravura, and the alternation from somber melancholy to wild joy was exhilarating to this listener. The finale, with its insistent piano rhythm, involved a wistful Jewish melody that seemed emblematic of those horrific times.

After intermission, things cheered up in Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor. This work is an amalgam of sweet melodies and urgent dramatic passages. The Scherzo movement had a gossamer lightness for which Mendelssohn was famous. In the finale, the introduction of a chorale melody, sometimes attributed to J.S. Bach, helped to give the work a solidly positive impact.

The end of the Mendelssohn was greeted with strong applause during which most of the audience stood. The encore posed no puzzles. It was "The Swan" from Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals."

At an Eroica concert, folks expect a fashion statement, and the Trio did not disappoint. Cellist Sant'Ambrogio was dressed in red, pianist Nickrenz was dressed in red and black and violinist Parkins was dressed in black. "Red and Black," perhaps symbolic?

The concert of Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana (BACH) on Nov. 11 at Faith United Methodist Church involved the intriguing contrast of choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach and his most successful son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and the text of the C.P.E. Bach work was the "Magnificat," which his father J.S. had already so distinctively set to music.

The passing on of musical talent from generation to generation is a fascinating subject, and in the case of J.S. Bach, two of his sons enjoyed highly successful careers, C.P.E. at the Potsdam court of Frederick the Great and Johann Christian in the musical circles of London.

The opening work, J.S. Bach's motet, "Jesu Meine Freude" ("Jesus, My Joy"), BWV 227, was fresh in my mind, after hearing it at an Allerton Barn Concert in September. I was thus prepared for its dramatic contrasts and its sometimes staccato accents. The text of this motet is an amalgam of a poem from about 1650 by Johann Franck, interspersed by passages from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and the intense spiritual struggle depicted in the text was well conveyed by the singing of the BACH soloists and chorus under the energetic direction of Joseph Baldwin.

Although C.P.E. Bach's "Magnificat," W. 215, H. 772, came early in his career (1749, the year before his father's death), the differences in style between this version and the J.S. version (BWV 243) were quite noticeable. In place of the multiple musical lines of J.S.'s style, the single, graceful melodic lines of C.P.E.'s version distinctly pointed to the style of Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Mozart.

At another level, I found it a slightly eerie experience listening to the C.P.E. setting of the Virgin's Mary's prayer upon receiving news about her role in the Incarnation. I kept mentally hearing J.S. musical lines in contrast to C.P.E.'s, and then was sharply snapped back to the realization that this was a quite different work.

Whatever the comparisons to J.S.' version, the CPE "Magnificat" is a lovely work in its own light, and it received a fine performance from the BACH chorus and soloists Susan Bywaters, soprano; Andrew Turner, tenor; Euigun Lee, bass; and Sadie Cheslak, alto.

Baldwin is to be commended for bringing this work to members of the BACH audience, who received it with enthusiasm.

\John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.

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