Friends of Chamber Music

Trio Apollon

February 29, 2000

Vancouver Playhouse


by John Keillor

       Trio Apollon's program was lighter than could be expected of an East Berlin ensemble. Not much music has been written for this group's instrumentation-piano, viola, and clarinet-no doubt limiting the trio's choices. This evening was more of a parlor music event than a chamber music recital. Though the music's seriousness was not at a high level the playing was, featuring the sublime insight and heart we now rightfully expect from musicians hailing from Berlin's serious east side.

       They began with Mikhael Glinka's Trio in D minor. Written in 1832, this work's striking qualities were historical. No trace of the Russian folk songs that bound Glinka's famous Nationalist School could be heard. Glinka instigated that movement later. His trio's sound was Brahmsian, with long melodic breaths and lack of superfluous technical fireworks, before Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was born. These matters aside, it was a simple, unchallenging piece, wrought with commendable craft.

       Somewhat more inventive was Francis Poulenc's 1955 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. His musical aesthetic was grounded in Satie's faux-dada, insofar as Poulenc had mastered the science of triviality, weaving together urbane contrasts that never developed. Crisp, terse phrases were paired with hearty, cabaret-style melodic lines and fluid arabesques. The result was a concise pastiche with a specific art nouveau flavour.

       The performance was superb, and this work would have appreciably complimented a more challenging work. Instead, Georges Enescu's 1906 Koncertstück for Viola and Piano followed. This was a showcase vehicle for the viola that did not offer any musical insights. The first half done, it was left for the audience to wonder if Apollon Trio did not set their sights a little low, or if they considered Vancouver listeners lazy.

       The second half proved craftier, beginning with Mozart's Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano in E flat Major, K498. The counterpoint was clean, transparent, and beautifully ennobled by the ensemble. Next was Beethoven's Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in B flat major, Opus 11. Paul Klengel rewrote the cello part for viola.

       Written In 1798, its witty use of false endings was indicative of Beethoven's teacher, Franz Hayden, and the effortless play of voices suggested Mozart. This early Beethoven work was a commercial venture and not too involved. The Mozart work was inspired while bowling with friends and was also in the lighter vein. An encore produced a truncated, trio version of Ravel's 1899 Pavane. This wasthe evening's highlight, but the audience was only fairly enthusiastic, owing to a program that all dessert and no meat.

       All things considered, the ensemble is certainly welcome back to Vancouver, hopefully wielding a more rounded program. Friends of Chamber Music will feature The Leipzig String Quartet on March 21, packing a substantial program of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.