Cello Eloquence in an Evening of Classic Piano Trios

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Strauss, and Mendelssohn: Cynthia Raim (piano), Catherine Cho (violin), Peter Stumpf (cello), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 15.1.2015 (BJ)

Mozart: Piano Trio in C major, K. 548
Strauss: Cello Sonata in F major, Op. 6
Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49

This presentation from the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society was unusually easy to summarize: great music, compelling musicianship, and superb execution.

It will not, I hope, be taken as an insult to violinist Catherine Cho, who stepped in when Ida Levin had to cancel her appearance owing to indisposition, if I say that the finest part of the evening was the middle third. Ms. Cho was a worthy partner to her colleagues on piano and cello in a graceful performance of one of Mozart’s greatest piano trios and an unrelentingly passionate and romantic reading of the first of Mendelssohn’s two works in the genre.

If the latter seemed occasionally repetitive, it was not the fault of the performers but of Mendelssohn himself, who allowed his enthusiasm for his melodic material to overall concerns of economy that could have made for a tauter and more coherent structure. The gem, in this attractive work that nevertheless falls a tad short of the composer’s highest standards, is the irresistibly fleet-footed third movement, a scherzo that does indeed match his best efforts. All three players lived up brilliantly to its “Leggiero e vivace” marking, and the popular local pianist Cynthia Raim in particular demonstrated a gigantic advance in tone, expression, and sheer virtuosity over anything I had heard from her previously.

But it was after the evening’s opening Mozart performance, in Strauss’s Cello Sonata, that Peter Stumpf showed all the qualities that have made him one of the outstanding chamber-music players—as well as one of the finest orchestra principals—of our time. When they composed the program’s two trios, Mozart and Mendelssohn, believe it or not, were old guys compared with the 19-year age at which Strauss wrote his sonata. It isn’t, naturally, to be rated fully mature Strauss, though the opening phrases already sound piquantly characteristic. But it’s a fine piece for all that, and Stumpf, beautifully supported by Raim, brought out the full value of every eloquent line and every ingenious exploitation of tone color to be found in it.


Bernard Jacobson