By Don Adkins
THE TEMPEST TRIO played to a nearly sold-out audience at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz on Saturday night. The concert, the fifth of the Distinguished Artists Concert and Lecture Series, featured Beethoven’s Trio Op. 97 “Archduke” and Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 1 Op. 49. The Tempest Trio members: Alon Goldstein, piano, Ilya Kaler, violin and Amit Peled, cello, are three top-quality players with international solo performing careers. They have toured and recorded together for the past ten years and came to Santa Cruz because Goldstein is co-director of Distinguished Artists.
There was no doubt throughout the entire concert that all three are consummate artists and, just as important, have worked together extensively. The essential details of good music-making such as phrasing, dynamics, tempo changes and rubato, gave evidence of the time and effort the three have spent together. The question and answer session after the concert confirmed another reason for this musical unity: they actually enjoy each other’s company—not always a given with professional chamber groups. That does not mean that there weren’t moments when things did not perfectly mesh, but this is a comment made by this reviewer who was listening with a hyper-critical ear and pen to the paper. The concert was full of spectacular music-making and deserved the audience’s enthusiastic response.
The beginning of the famous “Archduke” immediately revealed a few issues that were beyond the players’ control. Peace United Church is problematic as a concert venue because of both poor sightlines and spotty acoustics. Several people I spoke to could only see one or two of the musicians and the concertgoer’s location in the audience greatly affected the balance of the instruments. The violin was easily audible to many seated on the left-hand side and almost inaudible to many seated on the right-hand side. The piano was also more dominant on the right than on the left. The cello managed to always be heard above Beethoven’s piano part but the violin did not fare as well. This was especially evident in the first and fourth movements.
It brings up another issue which, again, is outside of the players’ control. The Beethoven trio was written for a type of piano which was not nearly as powerful as our modern concert grands. The balance issues on Saturday night probably would not have existed if a replica of his available instrument had been used. That leads to the question: what can be done about it when the modern piano is used? One possible answer is to short-stick the piano lid, not raised to its full height.
Every piano player in the world would complain about this. How can you minimize such a glorious instrument by dampening its sound? This became especially apparent where modifying the tone of the piano would have made am important difference in the extended pizzicato section in the first movement of the Beethoven. The piano had a less bright sound and the violin was, therefore, heard by the right-hand side of the audience with no difficulty.
The Mendelssohn trio did not have as many balance issues due, in large part, to the fact that Mendelssohn was writing for a type of piano that comes closer to our modern-day version. The piano part is constructed so that the strings are often placed in gaps not covered by the keyboard. The Mendelssohn is one of my favorite piano trios when I am in the mood for great Romantic period music. The Tempest Trio played this piece with just the right amount of nuance to make the music sing without becoming maudlin. The tempo of the third-movement Scherzo began a touch too fast but soon relaxed just a bit. The fourth movement featured the evening’s best example of a long-arching melody played with just the right amount of ensemble interpretation. The question and answer session at the end of the concert gave the trio a chance to interact with the audience and brought the evening to a satisfying end.