At home with the Prometheus Trio
Prometheus Trio concerts, at the intimate little concert hall of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, have become endearingly homey.
Monday night, for example, pianist Stephanie Jacob sensed that someone late for the second half was stuck outside curtained glass door, the only entrance. She jumped up from the piano, opened the door, and ushered the embarrassed young fellow in. Before the intermission, upon completion of Martinu’s Cinq pièces brèves (1930), Jacob shocked her husband, cellist Scott Tisdel, and violinist Timothy Klabunde by saying: “I just have to play that last one again. I just have to.” To which the incredulous Tisdel exclaimed: “She’s nuts!” Then they played it again, much to the amusement of the audience.
All this could be annoying, but isn’t. The audience and performers know one another so well that everyone’s in it together. And Jacob is so utterly ingenuous that you have to love her. The Prometheans play chamber music of the virtuoso variety, but it’s still chamber music. You could play it in your living room. More and more, that’s how these concerts feel. I like it.
Of course, none of that would matter if they didn’t play well and put together interesting programs. Jacob, Klabunde and Tisdel do both. They have taken on the underrated Martinu as a special cause play him often. Monday they made a strong case for the Cing pièces brèves, a set of boisterous miniatures. Martinu couched his dense and nearly relentless counterpoint in raucously extended tonal harmony. Fierce syncopations yank the themes this way and that through the four fast movements, especially the finale, which sounds like a jazz band rehearsing on a bus as it careens down a pot-holed mountain road. No wonder Jacob wanted to play it twice.
They astutely observed and conveyed the humor in the outer movements Mozart’s Trio in C, K. 548. They exaggerated the genteel bits and went a little nuts on the buffa stuff, which was very funny and just right for the first movement. In the finale, Mozart appears zeroed in on cadences but as often as not lands a step or two off. The players went suddenly soft in these oddball landings, to amusing effect, rather like the sensation of planting your foot on what turns out to be air instead of terra firma. The central cantabile came off as lyrical and supple in its line, noble in the steady tread of the tempo, and passionate in the aching throb of the string players’ vibrato.
This especially venturesome program also included the single-movement Trio élégiaque, from Rachmaninoff’s student days, and Anne Dudley’s trio setting of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 11 for solo violin. They added an arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance in D minor as an encore.
Rachmaninoff’s big, Romantic melodies sweep through a sprawling sonata form. The Prometheans phrased this juicy music generously, lavished rich, warm sound upon it, and got behind that certain sense of waves forming, building, cresting and crashing that is essential to this sort of Romantic music. (It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that… surge.)
In its pure form for solo violin, Bach’s Chaconne is a lonely act of heroism, an attempt to wring multiple ongoing voices out of an instrument not really made for it. Much of the music is implicit or suggested. It is gripping in its austere, severe, even skeletal essence.
Dudley, with three instruments at hand, fully and expertly realized Bach’s every suggestion. She put flesh on the bones, and the bones bear the weight well.
This program will be repeated in a matinee at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 77 at the conservatory, 1584 N. Prospect Ave. Call 414-276-5760 for ticket information.