ATOS Trio @ The New School

Synaphaï welcomes Elizabeth Barnette as a contributing writer and critic.

Rachmaninoff: “Trio élégiaque” No. 1 in g minor
Dvorák: Piano Trio in g minor, Op. 26
: Piano Trio in B-flat Major “Archduke”, Op. 97

Annette von Hehn, violin / Stefan Heinemeyer, cello / Thomas Hoppe, piano

Tishman Auditorium, The New School, New York City
Sunday, April 10, 2011

After starting their American tour in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center on April 7, the ATOS Trio came to New York to play two different programs on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

If these young musicians were challenged by such a taxing schedule, it certainly did not show. Easing into their program at the New School with Rachmaninoff’s “Trio élégiaque” No. 1, they immediately engaged the audience with their intimate playing.

Unfortunately though, the performance venue proved to be a hindrance. During the almost inaudible opening of the piece, loud squeaking from a seat in the audience added an extra musical element, as did the back-up beep from a truck outside at the equally quiet closing. The acoustics of the oval-shaped Tishman Auditorium perfectly project the sound from the stage, but that also included more creaking coming from the piano benches on which Hoppe and Heinemeyer sat, as well as from seats in the well-filled auditorium. It is not often that one has to strive to ignore extraneous noises in order to concentrate on the performance. The effort was well worth it though, as the Trio perfectly shaped the dramatic arch of Rachmaninoff’s youthful one-movement work. From its hushed beginning it grew into full-blooded passion, with perfectly matched octaves between violin and cello, and finally back to a funereal closing.

Also in G minor, Dvorák’s Piano Trio No. 2, Opus 26, was written when the composer was 35 years old. However, in this work, unlike in his much more popular later trios in F minor and E minor (“Dumky”), the composer has not really found his individual voice yet, except perhaps for the folk-like elements in the Trio of the 3rd movement. In the finale he gets stuck on a short rhythmic motif, as sometimes happens to Schubert, and it lacks long melodic lines. Nevertheless, the ATOS Trio made the most of Dvorák’s early effort, including moments of great delicacy in the Coda of the first movement, and Heinemeyer’s beautiful cello solo at the opening of the second.

The highpoint of the afternoon was one of the cornerstones of the chamber music literature, the “Archduke” Trio. Beethoven was only six years older than Dvorák when he wrote it, but it shows him to be a master of the genre. Among the largely senior audience many chamber music lovers were undoubtedly intimately familiar with this work; it speaks to the quality of the ATOS Trio’s performance than several elderly women came up to the artists in the lobby afterwards, raving that they had heard it played often, but never better.

One of the characteristics which distinguished this performance was an impeccable inner coherence between the musicians, with gentle guidance by the cellist. Without overtly “leading”, Stefan Heinemeyer has an artistic presence which envelops the Trio like a field of energy, unifying their approach. This is not to say that things have not been meticulously worked out in rehearsal – the judicious use of matched poco vibrato of the string players, the exquisite balances between all the instruments, as well as tempos, structure and moods. The section at the end of the development in the first movement – starting pianissimo with pizzicatos in the cello and violin, ethereal trills on the piano, ever increasing in intensity, then dynamics, but finally yielding to a piano recapitulation – was the perfect example of both, meticulous preparation and artistic instincts bringing it to fruition.

In the Scherzo the relaxed side of Beethoven emerged, and his mysterious moods and unexpected outbursts in the Trio section. For the Andante pianist Thomas Hoppe found just the right tempo for his most noble opening statement, and in the second variation Annette von Hehn and Stefan Heinemeyer traded perfectly matched and tuned delicate figurations, eventually leading into the spirited finale, and a blazing Presto to conclude. The last movement of Haydn’s Piano Trio in A major (Hoboken XV/18) followed as an encore. As admirable and even breathtaking the ATOS Trio’s technical skill is, what sets it apart from other ensembles is the even more impressive understanding and execution of quiet moments. Still in their 30s, these young musicians have already transcended virtuosity and established themselves as artists.

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