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Volume 20 Issue 6 - March 2015

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Beat by Beat | Classical

Beat by Beat | Classical & BeyondThree’s CompanyPAUL ENNISThe Vienna Piano Trio’s previousToronto appearances – withthe Women’s Musical Club inNovember 2005 and three visits toToronto Summer Music from 2010 to2012 – were greeted with widespreadacclaim. So it’s no surprise thatthey are highly anticipating theirMooredale Concerts recital March 8.That’s what the gregarious StefanMendl, the trio’s pianist and lastremaining of its founding members,told me recently by phone fromVienna, the city where he has livedsince his birth.I asked him about the particularsensibility that typifies a chambermusician. “From scratch you musthave the urge to find a specialsound that is the group sound,” heanswered. “You should not be so restrained that nobody can hear youbut neither are you so predominant that you drown out the others. Itmust be your goal from the beginning that you find this sound; if youhave a good ear and if you have the will to do this, then you are off toa good start.“Then, of course there is experience, knowing when you can reallyplay out and when you have to combine with the strings; when youhave to give them more bass or less bass. You have to put aside yourown ambitions and have the will to find a sound that blends.”In his own case, right from his first experience on stage, chambermusic felt better. “I discovered early on in my soloist days [born in1966, he founded the trio in 1988] that I enjoyed playing concertosmuch more than recitals. I think that sometimes you get more ideas orbetter ideas when you have the chance to interact with others. At leastfor me that’s the case and I feel very, very comfortable with friendsand with colleagues on stage. I don’t feel that comfortable when I’mon my own.“And of course there is the wonderful music that is written for pianotrio, piano quartet and piano quintet [he regularly performs with theHagen Quartet]. Sometimes, all of our greatest composers put a lot oftheir inner feelings and emotions into their chamber music. I find itall very fascinating, still,” he said, with a laugh that underlined thehold the music still has on him.The key thing to a trio’s success he believes is to have three peopleof equal musical and technical skill who have similar musical goals.“You need a rich palette of ideas and colour. Everybody needs theirown opinion amidst the common goal.”I wanted to know how he relates to the music the trio willbe performing on the upcoming Sunday afternoon in Toronto.“Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations is really a fantastic piece of music,”he replied with palpable verve. “The very late opus number [Op.121a]is a bit misleading. No one hearing the very heavy introduction wouldexpect it to turn into this funny theme, but there are hints, hidden ina minor key in a delicate, funny way. One slow variation before thefinale is very deep and serious. Like all of Beethoven, the deepest andmost serious is right next to the fun, almost grotesque or rude side. Hewas never shy, even in his greatest works to put little bits of his feelingsright next to the really funny things. These variations are a reallygood way to experience that; in a very short amount of time he doesall these turns and twists.”This was a good opportunity to bring up the relationship betweenVienna Piano Trio: Stefan Mendl (centre); BogdanBožovic, violin (left); Matthias Gredler, cello (right)recording and live performance since the trio released the Kakaduvariations along with Beethoven’s Trios Op.70, on their latest MDGGold CD last year. “Recording something always affects your liveplaying because you get so close to it. You listen more to detail thanyou would otherwise ... sometimes you get things brought out thatyou probably wouldn’t have discovered before and then your performanceis altered. Of course, your performance always changes overtime,” he said.Mendelssohn’s Trio No.1 Op.49 inD Minor, the concluding piece onthe March 8 program, is the morefamous of the composer’s two trios,but for Mendl, they are both on thesame genius level. The trio playsthem frequently and loves both ofthem. Mendl particularly enjoys the“gorgeous and brilliant and skillfulpiano writing which hardly anygreat composer has accomplished tothat extent.“It works so well for themedium of the piano trio becauseMendelssohn had all these greatmelodies – mainly he wrote in thestrings – and the texture for that isthis incredibly bubbling piano partwhich makes a fantastic contrast. Hedoes this in a very, very idiomaticway so that his piano trios will always be at the top of the list of thegreatest trios both for performers and the audience. And a beautifullyrical slow movement, a quicksilvery light scherzo – the type ofscherzo so different from what anybody else wrote in those days ... Thescherzo is perfect; there can’t be a more perfect scherzo imaginable.”Mendl reminded me that Schumann had written a famous reviewraving about that D-Minor trio, calling it the role model of a piano trio.Very interesting in light of the preceding work on the Toronto recital,Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 88. Despite its late opus number, itwas written earlier than the composer’s piano trios but publishedlater and less often performed. Schumann called them fantasy piecesbecause they didn’t conform to the trio form. The first and thirdpieces, the slow ones, are especially close to the pianist’s heart and“contain some of Schumann’s best piano trio writing ... they are in noway second rate.”I was curious about the formidable list of mentors on the ViennaPiano Trio’s website, almost all of whom the trio met during a memorabletwo-week chamber music workshop in New York in 1993. “We’dnever been to New York before so it was a double experience, reallymind-blowing I would say, without exaggeration.” They got severallessons from Isaac Stern, the Guarneri Quartet (Arnold Steinhardtand Michael Tree), from Henry Meyer of the LaSalle Quartet and fromthe Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. Mendl still remembers thekindness of Jaime Laredo who brought them back to New York for aconcert series.Most important was the enormous impact the intense workshophad on the group’s musical goals. It brought a “kind of down-to-earthquality” to what had been the “very polished style of trio playing wehad experienced with [earlier mentors] the Trio di Trieste.”Finally, I wondered, did living in Vienna inspire him, since the Cityof Dreams had been a place where many composers lived and died.“And died especially,” he laughed. “I personally live very, very closeto where all these Beethoven memorial places are ... and although Idon’t want to do this too consciously, sometimes I’m touched when Iwander around in this area and I feel that Beethoven wrote so muchmusic there and lived there for a great while.”Seen and Heard: The RBC Piano Extravaganza – or “Ax-travaganza”as Mervon Mehta dubbed it – took the city by storm over an 11-dayperiod attracting approximately 14,000 to events at RTH alone.In addition, 27 amateurs performed on the hall’s newly acquired14 | March 1 - April 7, 2015 thewholenote.com

New York Steinway during theCommunity Piano Showcase;including the Young People’sConcert programs, 20 pianistsperformed on the RTH stageduring the festival; and 200 peopleplayed the five Steinways in thefestival’s inaugural event, Pianosin the City, February 4 between11am and 2pm.My immersion in theExtravaganza began on its secondday, Thursday February 5, withfestival curator Emanuel Ax’sintroduction of two young pianistsat a COC free noontime concert.Siberian-born Pavel Kolesnikov, the 2012 Honens Competition winnernow studying with Maria João Pires in Brussels, learned three Liszttranscriptions of Wagner operas, including the “Pilgrim’s Chorus”from Tannhäuser, especially for the event. Impressive. Americanpianist Orion Weiss, who left his native Cleveland for Juilliard, specificallyto study with Ax for his integrity and revelatory playing, broughta singing touch to a pair of Granados Goyescas. Several hours laterthey played a dynamically well-matched Rachmaninoff SymphonicDances for two pianos that preceded a TSO concert that included theorchestral version of the same piece.Ax began that program with an agreeable, self-effacing renditionof a Schubert impromptu followed by Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 14K449. Round tones of limpid liquidity gave the impression that thepianist was opening a musical jewel box.The four-hour and twenty-minute Pianopalooza Sunday afternoonincluded 16 disparate performers selected by the RCM in a musicalcavalcade that came close to filling Koerner Hall and concluded with ashow-stopping, two-piano-eight-hands version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812Overture complete with recorded cannon shots. The event featuredtwo bona fide highlights: Robi Botos’ jazz set was an uninterrupted20-minute piece of spontaneous joy; Ax’s melodic, technically assuredperformance of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 was piano playing at its best.Three days later, Ax joined Jan Lisiecki for Mozart’s heavenlyConcerto for Two Pianos K316a/365 and Saint-Saëns’ delightfullyentertaining The Carnival of the Animals.The next day in a pre-concert performance, Ax displayed hischamber music skill set in an immensely satisfying reading ofSchumann’s Piano Quintet Op. 44. The string parts were taken bythe first chair TSO players, concertmaster Jonathan Crow, principalsecond violinist Paul Mayer, prinicipal violist Teng Li and principalcellist Joseph Johnson. The players faced the choir loft, which overflowedinto the adjacent sections of the hall. No one who heard themwill forget the strings’ strength, the way Ax was able to emerge fromthe background to point out the melody and the assured playing ofthis propitious gathering.Later that evening Ax demonstrated a deft curatorial touch in anadventurous program pairing a two-piano piece with its orchestralequivalent. Ax and Stewart Goodyear, more or less balanced inselected pieces of Carl Maria von Weber, returned for an excitingperformance of Ravel’s La Valse. In between Anagnoson & Kintonproved to be very well-matched in an apparently seamless gambolthrough Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. As in the previousweek’s Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, the orchestral colour wasmore varied than the keyboards’ but the unique opportunity to hearthe difference was welcome.Ax spoke of his love of the word “metamorphosis” when he introducedthat program. The next morning he became its agent at amaster class for Glenn Gould School students. He was his usualcombination of self-effacing and endearing as his analysis and advicetransformed a student’s performance of Chopin’s Barcarolle, a piecehe called “ecstatic” and which he linked forward to Wagner and backto Bach. He continued his delicate balance of dispensing compliments,Emanuel Ax listens to an amateur pianist duringthe Community Piano Showcase at RTHever careful that his suggestions would not be construed as outrightcriticism.He recalled an encounter he had as a young man with Pablo Casalswhen the cellist was 96 and spending his last summer at Marlboro.“[When] the music goes up, [play] loud; music goes down, soft,”Casals instructed. “We all thought he was out to lunch,” Ax said. “Butthe older I get, the more I see how right he was.”125 Years Dedicated Service To MusicSelection,Value and Expertise♦ Europe’s legendary pianos♦ String instruments♦ Guitars, popular instruments♦ Print music and Books210 Bloor St. West Toronto - 416-961-3111www. remenyi.comMALCOLM COOKthewholenote.com March 1 - April 7, 2015 | 15

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2019)

Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020
Volume 25 Issue 2 - October 2019
Volume 25 Issue 1 - September 2019
Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
Volume 24 Issue 7 - April 2019
Volume 24 Issue 6 - March 2019
Volume 24 Issue 5 - February 2019
Volume 24 Issue 4 - December 2018 / January 2019
Volume 24 Issue 3 - November 2018
Volume 24 Issue 2 - October 2018
Volume 24 Issue 1 - September 2018
Volume 23 Issue 9 - June / July / August 2018
Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018
Volume 23 Issue 7 - April 2018
Volume 23 Issue 6 - March 2018
Volume 23 Issue 4 - December 2017 / January 2018
Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017
Volume 23 Issue 2 - October 2017
Volume 23 Issue 1 - September 2017
Volume 22 Issue 9 - Summer 2017
Volume 22 Issue 8 - May 2017
Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017
Volume 22 Issue 6 - March 2017
Volume 22 Issue 5 - February 2017
Volume 22 Issue 4 - December 2016/January 2017
Volume 22 Issue 2 - October 2016
Volume 22 Issue 1 - September 2016
Volume 21 Issue 9 - Summer 2016
Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016
Volume 21 Issue 6 - March 2016
Volume 21 Issue 5 - February 2016
Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016
Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015
Volume 21 Issue 2 - October 2015
Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

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