How exciting it must have been to be a music lover in Vienna in the early nineteenth century. If you had grown tired of Hummel and even the innovative but ageing Haydn, and were lamenting the premature death of the brilliant Mozart, you had the revolutionary rise of a young Beethoven to assess. On 22nd of December 1808, you might have been lucky enough to spice up your Christmas by attending the concert to end all concerts at “Theater an der Wien” where you heard the premiere performances of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies of Beethoven and his Fourth Piano Concerto and Choral Fantasia among other works, although you might not have been impressed by the deaf composer’s piano playing or the freezing temperature. Three years later, Beethoven completed his Emperor Concerto, which to his chagrin he found himself unable to play, and his seventh Piano Trio in B flat known as the “Archduke” due to its dedication to Rudolph, son of Emperor Leopoldo II, and his major sponsor.
We were grateful to hear this work in the comfort of Chatswood Concert Hall performed by the Streeton Trio which has won numerous awards including the Musica Viva Chamber Music Competition. Named after the famous Australian artist Sir Robert, two of the Trio were founder members. Benjamin Kopp, piano, has won many awards and Scholarships. He completed his post graduate work in Switzerland where he performed as soloist with several Orchestras. Emma Jardine has also won many awards and also completed her studies in Geneva. She has played regularly with the Suisse Romande Orchestra and as Guest Principal with the SSO and plays a Canadian Cormier violin, this being a modern make which has gained as much recognition as Stuart Pianos. Umberto Clerici is well known to us as Principal cello to the SSO and has played with the Trio before. Tonight, he was guesting for Meta Weiss who is about to add to her family. Having studied in his native Italy, he was principal cellist with Royal Opera House in Turin before moving to Sydney and has played as soloist with many international orchestras while he recently performed the cello solo with the SSO in Brahms’ Double Concerto. He has two eighteenth century cellos and tonight was playing a 1722 Goffriller.
For a relatively late work, the Beethoven Piano trio in B-flat major, op 97, Archduke is very accessible and full of tuneful themes. The first movement, introduced by the piano, rollicks energetically while the first theme is left hanging in the air, a trick Beethoven uses frequently. An energetic coda precedes the Scherzo which fully justifies the “Joke” translation with jumping arpeggios and staccato phrases. The Trio is quite amazing – how does Beethoven get a tune from an ascending chromatic scale but he does and the notes resolve into a forceful statement. The composer must have loved it as he puts in a reprise at the movement’s end. The slow movement puts out a clear lyrical statement followed by four superbly developed variations. A sad, haunting extended coda leads via a subtle key change directly into the Finale Allegro with its jumpy boisterous opening theme developed in Rondo form. A dramatic episode in the minor mode is also left suspended followed by the cello playing the main theme – this leads by subtle key changes and silences into an extended coda with its own themes intertwined with the previous. A superb piece, beautifully played throughout by the Trio who seemed to grab the music and drive it inexorably forward yet still capture the more tender nuances.
Franz Schubert did not have it easy in Vienna. Although he wrote his First Symphony only two years after the “Archduke”, his music was known only to his own close circle of friends until in 1821 when he was accepted by the “Society of Friends of Music” and subsequently had works included in three concerts, notably his song “The Wanderer”. The following year, he did indeed meet Beethoven who made little comment until on his deathbed when he stated that Schubert would “make a great sensation in the world” while it is stated that Beethoven’s death upset Schubert considerably. In the same year, it is recorded that Schubert, perhaps affected by a previous unrequited love, began to live a dissolute life involving orgies and heavy drinking, began to alienate his friends and not long after was diagnosed with syphilis. As so often happens, the composer proceeded to compose a series of masterworks of which the Piano Trio in E flat was acknowledged as the first and it was performed at his only concert open to the public in 1828 with a degree of financial success. He composed his second piano trio, string Quintet and last three piano sonatas, masterpieces all, before his death in November from either his disease or, more likely, the side effects of its treatment.
The Piano trio no 2 in E-flat major, op 100, D 929 starts with an Allegro of massive form encompassing several themes and their extensive development with episodes of anger and of solemnity involving many typical Schubertian modulations while the third theme resembles the second of the first movement of the “Unfinished Symphony”. The Andante which follows has a march-like though dotted rhythm while this is followed by an extended dramatic section praised by none less than Einstein. The Scherzo has a song like theme beautifully developed and an expressive adamant Trio section. The last movement starts with a simple theme which progresses of its own momentum and includes a return of the main slow movement theme and a long cadenza involving many rapidly repeated notes on the piano. An all-encompassing work and any comparisons with his other famous Trio are odious.
Rapid, repeated notes are notoriously difficult to play and I have to commend Benjamin Kopp’s accurate playing as well as his dynamism and handling of tempi which is so important in a Piano Trio. This is not to detract from the strings whose playing was faultless and reflected the intense moods of the music. Another feather in the cap for the Sydney Mozart Society for staging this momentous and well received recital.