e superb musicianship of the Tempest Trio was on display Tuesday night at the College of St. Scholastica’s Mitchell Auditorium for Matinee Musicale’s second concert offering of the season. Each has an impressive resume as a solo artist and in combination they are utterly sublime.
The program began with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Trio No. 5 "Ghost" in D major. The "Ghost" label was applied by Beethoven's most famous piano student, Carl Czerny, who said the second movement with its eerie beginning -- the strings sustaining three notes whole the piano responds in a mournful mood -- reminded him of the ghost of Hamlet's father (Beethoven's notebooks suggest he was considering composing the score for an opera of Shakespeare's "Macbeth").
The selection made sense as the opening piece because the three began playing in unison. Peled would exchange glances with Kaler, and there were times in the second movement when they eyed each other to play the notes isolated by rests in concert as the piece became almost melodramatic. You could see the calculus of Beethoven’s composition working through all the possible combinations, as each instrument would take the lead and the others would either pick up the theme or harmonize.
Leonard Bernstein composed his Piano Trio in 1937, when he was a 19-year-old student majoring in music at Harvard University. Goldstein introduced the piece as reflecting the early Bernstein, "when many things are not yet settled." Each movement was started by a different instrument and you could recognize some of Bernstein's musical influences.
The first movement featured an emphasis on syncopation, and Goldstein’s best moments to shine in the program. If the opening of the second movement seemed familiar, that would be because Bernstein recycled the melody for his first musical, "On the Town." The movement featured a furious pizzicato duel between the string instruments and ended in a way that provoked chuckles from the audience, while the final movement built with incredible energy to a climax that was equally impish in nature.
The second half of the program was devoted to Antonín Dvořák's Trio No. 4 "Dumky" in E minor, one of his best-known chamber music pieces, which the Tempest Trio recorded in 2014. The title references a lament of a captive people, which explains the brooding, introspective nature of the composition, which Dvořák counters with sharp turns into what sounds to our ears like dance music.
“Dumky” consists of six sections, a fact camouflaged by the first three being connected together. The second movement, Poco Adagio, was my absolute favorite, beginning with mournful piano and waiting for the cello to hit a really low note before shifting quickly to a dazzling high-speed folk dance theme. The sixth section, Lento Maestoso, was Kaler’s showcase moment of the evening, with Dvořák allowing him time to develop a lovely melody.
If there was a common denominator to these three pieces, it was that each ultimately seemed to privilege the cello above the other two instruments. Answering questions before their encore, Peled revealed that his gorgeous century-old cello had been owned by Pablo Casals, and was worth $3 million. I cannot compute how much credit goes to the instrument versus musician, not to mention the factor of sitting closer to a world class cellist than I have ever done before, but it was like every note Peled played was magic.