Boulanger Trio, the Gift of Music

GermanyGermany Schubert, Ravel, Haydn: Boulanger Piano Trio, Hall of the Künstlerhaus, Munich, 31.3.2012 (JFL)

Haydn: Piano Trio Hob.VI:29, E-flat Major
Ravel: Piano Trio, a-minor
Schubert: Piano Trio No.2, E-flat Major

Photo © Irène Zandel

On the occasion of its Fifth anniversary, the German classical music website, dipped its toe into the realm of concert presentation. A success, musically—in that the lovely Boulanger Piano Trio put on a fine show of Haydn, Ravel, and Schubert. Not entirely successful perhaps in economic terms; not quite a hundred listeners filled the 300+ seats of the beautiful main hall of Munich’s Künstlerhaus (“Artist’s house”). That’s actually decent for a chamber music recital in this chamber-music aversive town, but you’d think a journal and its multitude of connected critics would have the ideal network to put still more bums into seats. Problem is: journalists only know people who also never have to pay for tickets. Perhaps not quite the right crowd for such a venture after all. (Not that we feel guilty about that…)

Haydn, forever condemned to open concert programs rather than close them, is as much the father of the Piano Trio as he is of the string quartet and the symphony. He got started in 1785 with “Hob.XV:6 and when he had arrived at Hob.XV:29 in 1795, he had achieved formal perfection. Chief beneficiary from this development is the cellist in the trio, who ascends from basso continuo accompaniment, shadowing the fortepiano, to equal partner. The Trio Hob.XV:29 in E-flat further distinguishes itself in that the lady-dedicatee—Haydn habitually wrote his piano trios for the ladies—must have had a set of impressive paws… resulting in a piano part as ambitious as that of his best piano sonatas (Hob.XVI 50 & 52). Those sonatas incidentally also dedicated to said lady, Therese Jansen-Bartolozzi. (At whose wedding Haydn was best man.)

available at AmazonF.Schubert, Piano Trio op.100, D.929,
Florestan Trio
available at Amazon
Brahms, Liszt, Schoenberg, Piano Trios and Transcriptions,
Boulanger Piano Trio
PROFIL Hässler

The Boulanger-Trio-Ladies took a movement and a half to come together; the cello (Ilona Kindt) humbly rummaged about, while the violin (Birgit Erz) was hung out to dry in something of a solo act. Some time before the third movement the piano (Karla Haltenwanger) collected the two and ushered them into a homogenous, joyous, and spunky finale.

What is the phenomenon called where something that has recently been pointed out suddenly seems to be popping up everywhere? Since the now-infamous New York Mahler cell phone incident, I’ve heard the notorious iPhone marimba alarm twice in short succession. Here it had the decency to pipe up right between the Haydn and the Ravel Trio, to bemusing, rather than infuriating effect.

Such indulgent pianism, that the Ravel opens with! A dreamy delight, though soon interrupted by Mme. Erz’s steely, edgy, unforgiving and determined violin tone—a tone that morphed into something wonderfully plaintive for the Passacaille. Mme. Kindt’s cello has a small, very easily underestimated, but ultimately insistent, lyrical tone. The two disparate players make a harmonious trio thanks to Mme. Haltenwanger who mediates, adds soft hues, lavish notes, and, when the situation calls for it, administers a swift kick to keep the party lively.

Schubert’s Trio No.2 in E-flat Major, famous even before Stanley Kubrick came along, is one of the best triceps workouts in a pianist’s repertoire and minimum a 45 minute cardio exercise on top. It’s also a lot of great music—so much, indeed, that I welcomed the trios’ organic-but-brisk pace and the decision to play the ‘authorized revised’ version. That edition shaves a number of bars and a repeat or two off the discarded original version. A choice the Boulanger Trio could have made for economy’s sake… but more probably because the Urtext-police was watching. The qualities of the three performers merged like the center of a Venn diagram, with Schubert and his sense for delicate repetitiveness at the center.

A neat birthday present that gave itself.

Jens F. Laurson