CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 7:30 PM

Morgenstern Trio

Weill Recital Hall
One of the most exciting new chamber groups from Europe, the Morgenstern Trio is blowing audiences away with its magnetic virtuosity, sparkling energy, and organic unity. For its Carnegie Hall debut, the German piano trio carves out masterfully crafted works by Mozart, Ravel, and Brahms. After the performance, come have a free drink and meet the musicians at our Salon Encores.
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The Program

 

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502


About the Composer


The Trio in B-flat Major is the third of the six mature piano trios that Mozart wrote in two batches in 1786 and 1788. The 30-something maestro was the toast of Vienna as both composer and pianist. This fruitful period saw the creation of his greatest piano concertos, as well as the last three of the path breaking string quartets dedicated to Haydn, the “Prague” and “Jupiter” symphonies, and the first of his immortal operatic collaborations with Lorenzo Da Ponte, Le nozze di Figaro, which premiered at the Burgtheater on May 1, 1786. A few months earlier, Joseph Haydn had bestowed his blessing on Mozart, pronouncing him “the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.”


About the Work


Although Mozart was as eager as any composer to expand the market for his works, the idea of writing down to his audience was anathema to him. He saw no reason to stint on technical display, especially since he performed most of his music himself. The score of the B-flat–Major Trio was advertised for sale as one of three “quite new sonatas for the pianoforte, with the accompaniment of a violin and violoncello.” In fact, the string parts in K. 502 are fully emancipated from the strictures of the early–18th-century trio sonata. Mozart had come a long way from his early sonatas for keyboard and strings, written at the tender age of eight (they were his first published works), in which the violin and cello are little more than window dressing, and also from his charmingly lightweight Divertimento for Piano Trio, K. 254, of 1776. In the second half of 1786, he charted a new and more egalitarian course in a series of chamber masterpieces, including the Piano Trio in G Major, K. 496; the “Kegelstatt” Trio, K. 498, for piano, clarinet, and viola; and, arguably above all, the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502.


A Closer Listen


Mozart’s mastery of the piano-trio medium is evident in the carefully calibrated colloquy of the opening Allegro. A genial melody in B-flat major is introduced by the piano, then briefly taken up by the violin before abruptly veering off into a darkling G-minor netherworld, festooned with increasingly elaborate keyboard figurations. Despite such artful disguises, the principal theme never plunges far beneath the surface; even the F-major variant that launches the movement’s second part, with its distinctive snap rhythm, bears an unmistakable family resemblance. The slow movement, a radiantly lyrical Larghetto in E-flat major that might have been plucked from one of Mozart’s piano concertos, is similarly economical in thematic material and lucid in texture. The final Allegretto, with its playful skips and turns, takes us into more chromatic and contrapuntal territory. The music brims with variety and invention, its whimsically capricious spirit classically disciplined but never tame or predictable.

—Harry Haskell


 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

 

MAURICE RAVEL
Piano Trio in A Minor


About the Composer


From an early age, Ravel was marked to succeed Debussy as the poet laureate of French music. The two men shared a poetic sensibility and a fondness for sensuous, impressionistic timbres and textures. But while Debussy—who proudly styled himself musicien français—cast loose from the moorings of traditional forms and harmonies, Ravel remained a classicist at heart. Many of his works pay homage to composers and styles of the past, even as they incorporate ultramodern harmonies and compositional styles. The Baroque-inspired slow movement of the A-Minor Piano Trio, built on a repeating melodic and harmonic pattern known as a passacaglia, is a typical example of his creative recycling.


About the Work


Ravel produced his lone contribution to the piano-trio genre in a burst of white-hot inspiration. “I have never worked with more insane, more heroic intensity,” he wrote to a friend in the late summer of 1914. To another, he confided that he was “working with the assurance and clarity of a madman.” As Europe’s armies mobilized for war, Ravel holed up in seclusion at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, his beloved hideaway on the Basque coast. There, composing at what for him was a feverish pace, he accomplished “five months’ worth of work” in five exhilarating weeks. Ravel completed the trio at the end of that fateful August, then hurried to Bayonne to enlist in the French army, only to be rejected when examiners ruled that he was four pounds underweight. Swallowing his disappointment, he volunteered for service as a hospital orderly instead. In his next work, three limpidly beautiful songs for unaccompanied chorus modeled on the Renaissance chanson, both the madness of war and the manic urgency of the Piano Trio seem far away.


A Closer Listen


In light of its contracted genesis, the Piano Trio’s vibrant intensity is not surprising. But the character of the music is more elegiac than heroic. It opens with a billowing, Basque-flavored melody that glides wistfully above the piano’s gently rocking bass. An asymmetrical eighth-note pulse—three plus two plus three beats—conveys a sense of restless instability that carries over into the frenzied, scherzo-like second movement. (The latter’s title, Pantoum, refers obscurely to a Malayan verse form that French artists discovered in the late 19th century.) Next comes a majestic passacaglia, its tender eight-bar theme rising from the piano’s lowest register. After a series of elegantly simple variations, the music falls back into the murky deep, but the tranquil mood is shattered by a scintillating finale, whose shifting meters and pyrotechnical acrobatics test the virtuosity of all three players.

—Harry Haskell


 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

 

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8


About the Composer


In the fall of 1853, the year he wrote his B-Major Piano Trio, the 20-year-old Brahms traveled to Düsseldorf to meet the man he admired above all living composers. Robert Schumann had heard about Brahms from their mutual friend, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim. He welcomed his visitor warmly and promptly introduced him to his student Albert Dietrich. “Someone is here,” Schumann said, “of whom we shall one day hear all sorts of wonderful things.” According to Dietrich, he and Schumann were instantly taken with “the interesting and unusual-looking musician, who, seemingly hardly more than a boy in his short gray summer coat, with his high voice and long fair hair, made a most striking impression. Especially fine were his energetic, characteristic mouth and the earnest deep gaze in which his gifted nature was clearly revealed.”


About the Work


Paradoxically, the “first” of Brahms’s three trios for piano, violin, and cello is also the last. Notwithstanding its early opus number, the B-Major Trio dates, in its most familiar form, from the last decade of the composer’s life. A notoriously harsh self-critic, Brahms had never been satisfied with the original version of Op. 8, deeming it “wild” and inferior to his later trios in C major and C minor. When his friend and publisher, Fritz Simrock, shrewdly acquired the rights to the B-Major Trio and nine other early works from a competing firm in 1889, the composer seized the opportunity to revisit the piece he had written 36 years earlier. Brahms was not content simply to tinker with the trio, however. Instead, he virtually recomposed it. In reducing the length of the score by nearly a third, he left only one movement—the scintillating Scherzo—substantially unaltered. Of the other three movements, he preserved chiefly the principal themes, while tightening and recasting the musical argument throughout.


A Closer Listen


A soaring melody, relayed from piano to cello to violin, creates a mood of expansive lyricism in the opening Allegro con brio. Restless syncopations and athletic rhythms soon disturb the peace, injecting a note of urgency that is ultimately dispelled in the tranquil, luminous coda. The sizzling energy of the B-minor Scherzo is briefly interrupted by a tenderly lilting waltz in the relative major key. The Adagio, with its hushed, sustained chords in the piano and the strings spinning their simple, two-part counterpoint, seems to breathe the air of another world. In the final Allegro, also in B minor, Brahms sets rippling triplets against propulsive dotted rhythms, driving the movement toward a somberly exhilarating conclusion.

—Harry Haskell


 

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award (KLRITA).
The Distinctive Debuts series is made possible, in part, by an endowment fund for the presentation of young artists provided by The Lizabeth and Frank Newman Charitable Foundation.

Additional endowment support for international outreach has been provided by the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation.
This performance is part of Distinctive Debuts, and A Golden Age of Music.

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