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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012

Prometheus Trio Continues to Explore

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I have always admired the continuing exploration of literature that is a fundamental aspect of the Prometheus Trio. Over the years I have heard quite a bit of music on their concerts never before encountered. Such was the case with Frank Bridge’s Trio No. 2 on the ensemble’s opening concert of the season at Wisconsin Conservatory last week.

British composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941) is best known today as Benjamin Britten’s teacher. A master of the charming, folk-influenced style of English music of the early 20th century, Bridge’s technical ability and honesty as a composer led beyond convention, experimenting with freedom in rhythm and tonality. In the Trio No. 2 of 1929 he seems to be earnestly exploring, leaving sentiment behind, with results that are simultaneously bold and delicately subtle. Alban Berg and Maurice Ravel are obtusely observable influences, but the fascinating sounds are Bridge’s own invention. However dense or busy the music, clarity and leanness remain an aesthetic priority.

The players of Prometheus Trio (Timothy Klabunde, violin; Scott Tisdel, cello; Stefanie Jacob, piano) might not have completely mastered all the sophisticated details of the piece, but the music more than adequately came through in the performance. What I most like about this trio’s playing is straightforward honesty without pretension.

Bridge’s monumental chamber work was preceded by a playful and light Divertimento (K. 254) by Mozart. This is undemanding listening, but a pleasure nonetheless. I was less enamored by Camille Saint-Saëns’ Trio No. 1 in F Major, which sounded heavy-handed and obvious after the Bridge trio, predictable in almost every way. It’s not one of the great pieces in the chamber music literature, to put it mildly.

I’m not sure any performance of this Saint-Saëns trio could make a case for it. The inadequacies in the composition, not surprisingly, brought forth the least convincing music-making of the evening.

Prometheus Trio has a sizable and dedicated audience that knows the rewards of hearing chamber music in the lovely small hall at the Wisconsin Conservatory. The acoustic danger of the room is that the piano sometimes becomes a little overwhelming in balance with string instruments. 

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