This review appeared in The Straits Times on the 16 October 2008
The name Abegg comes from the first five notes in the Opus One of Robert Schumann, a set of virtuosic piano variations. Schumann’s music did not feature in the German piano trio’s recital, its first here in 19 years, which instead showcased the early music of three great symphonists.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s single-movement Piano Trio No.1 in C minor (Op.8), a 17-year-old’s musings, should not be confused with his later and greater E minor Trio (Op.67). Its late Romantic shades suggested Rachmaninov, but there were enough moments that pointed ahead to the Russian’s first masterpiece, his First Symphony. Despite the work’s relative awkwardness, the trio treated it with utmost respect, making it sound like something significant.
No question about Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor (Op.1 No.3), which already bore the marks of greatness. The secret in Ludwig was not with his brash fortissimos but in the stark contrasts and gradations of dynamics he brought to each movement. The hymn-like theme of the 2nd movement gave way to sudden, unexpected subito chords in the 3rd movement’s Minuet, before a tempestuous finale exhibited passion in full flow.
Pianist Gerrit Zitterbart’s nimble fingers provided the ever-scintillating counterpoint to Ulrich Beetz’s warm but occasionally intonation-challenged violin, and Birgit Erichson’s dulcet cello tones. That the engaging cellist achieved what she did while nursing a cough and drippy nose should not go unmentioned.
Brahms’ Piano Trio No.1 in B major (Op.8) underwent many revisions before arriving at its definitive form. Like the Beethoven before it, the performance benefited from a tight ensemble and acute judgment of its swells and recesses. From the broad and noble opening melody through to its turbulent and passionate end, this was a showing that smouldered, sparked and erupted, while enticing and charming.
Appreciative applause was rewarded with more Beethoven, a delicious reading of the presto finale from Op.1 No.1, a work which the 30-year-old ensemble performed here in 1989. Like the proverbial family in unity, musicians that play together stay together.