Music review: Trio Latitude 41 plays perfect Brahms

  • Trio Latitude 41 posted this picture on Facebook of Sage Hall at Smith College, taken before Sunday’s concert. PHOTO COURTESY OF TRIO LATITUDE 41/FACEBOOK

For the Gazette
Published: 3/23/2016 4:24:23 PM


Trio Latitude 41 made a welcome return to Northampton Sunday, when they played in the Music in Deerfield series at Sage Hall of Smith College.

The program was devoted to the music of a single composer, Brahms.

Most listeners probably are aware of the symphonies of Brahms and perhaps his German Requiem; fewer, to be sure, are familiar with his exquisite chamber music, least of all the three piano trios that were played in this concert.

As a genre, the piano trio is most frequently attempted by amateur players, for the family piano, increasingly a prized feature of 18th- and 19th-century homes, was often supplemented by family members or friends who played violin and cello, a combination far easier to assemble than a string quartet or a trio with a clarinet, flute or oboe replacing the violin.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was the founding father of the genre, and his trios needed a good pianist, with a modest amount of musicianship from the violinist, while the cellist’s music was usually doubled by the pianist’s left hand.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1753-1791) made significant advances on Haydn’s model, notably in his clarinet trio, but Ludwig van Beethoven (1771-1827) and, above all, Franz Schubert (1797-1828), transformed the piano trio into music of emotional, intellectual, and lyrical power, with equality in the musical contributions of the instruments. Indeed, Schubert’s two trios had never been surpassed when Brahms, at the age of 20, first composed a piano trio.

Brahms is never easy, as countless amateur pianists have found, and the piano part in his trios is exceedingly difficult. At Sunday's concert, Bernadette Blaha played the instrument brilliantly — powerfully when power was called for, delicately when her partners were prominent.

The piano part in all three trios was full of big chords, fast octaves for both hands and cascades of arpeggios. Yet her partners needed to be equally brilliant, and there was memorable playing from both, enhanced by the beautiful mellow tone of their 18th-century instruments, most notably the 1710 cello of Luigi Piovano.

The violinist, Livia Sohn, first played on a modern violin, made for her in 2006, and for the later works played her beautiful instrument made in 1770 by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini.

Brahms’ trios have four movements (their predecessors had three) giving him space for challenging and complex allegros, delicate scherzos, and lyrical adagios and andantes, notably a glorious cello solo in the C minor trio, the second work to be played.

The last trio performed Sunday was Trio in B Major, Opus 8, a piece the composer spent more than 30 years revising, telling his friend Clara Schumann, “I have written my B major trio once more: it will not be so muddled up …”

The final result, completed in 1889, is very beautiful, and an appropriate and satisfying climax to his compositions for this combination of instruments. Above all, Brahms had brought music for the piano trio to its triumphant perfection, a century after Haydn’s first compositions for the trio.

It was a privilege to hear this glorious music played with such mastery, and the players, after performing some of the most demanding music ever composed for the piano trio, still came out to talk with members of the audience. It was a splendid occasion.


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