Charlie Bates: One for the Generations


— Thursday night's well-attended concert "Rameau to Ragtime" at the United Methodist Church brought us yet another first-class classical ensemble - "The Generations Piano Trio," so called because of the disparity in ages of its members. John Sant'Ambrogio, cello, is 50 years violinist Dmitri Pogorelov's senior. And those ages bracket that of pianist Judith Stillman.

Sant'Ambrogio said he learns from Pogorelov, who at age 22 will soon graduate from Moscow University and the Lynn School of Music. Stillman is artist-in-residence on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The three met at a music festival in Ohio three years ago and hit it off immediately.

"Rameau to Ragtime" was a benefit for Sant'Ambrogio's "Arts for the Soul" workshops. His students were dilatory, so he took advantage of the wait by telling us about the time he destroyed the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

"Rameau to Ragtime" took us from 1741, when the piano had not quite yet been born. Jean-Philip Rameau's piece, of which only an exemplary passage was played, was originally composed for the harpsichord, which being a mechanical means of plucking a harp, is a delicate instrument that will go out of tune when beaten upon. Also, the stringed instruments had gut strings tuned to a lower pitch than the steel strings of today, as the bass-bar strengthening the underside of the face plate had not yet been added and they could not take as much tension.

Nevertheless, the trio did its best to emulate the way Rameau's "Rondement in C minor, La Coulican from Pieces de Claveci en concerts," 1741, might have sounded when first played. What was clear was the dominance of the violin; there was not yet the conversation among equals that characterizes chamber music.

The next piece was Franz Joseph Haydn's "Finale from Rondo all'Ongarese," Piano Trio No. 1, in G major, 1746. In this, the cello is still in a minor role, playing no notes the others do not play. However, the three instruments are closer to discourse among equals. That equality is achieved in the next piece, that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Andante cantabile from Piano Trio" in C major, 1788, in which the descending scale theme is echoed equally by each instrument in turn.

Next we heard Ludwig van Beethoven's "Theme and Variations, 'Kakadu'" from Piano Trio No. 8 in G major, 1816, which brings the conversation to a new and delightful level, especially remarkable because Beethoven knew he was going deaf but had faith he could overcome his disability; thanks to his conviction, the notes came from God. Then we heard Felix Mendelssohn's magnificent "Motto allegro adagitato" (which says it all) from Piano Trio D minor, Op. 49, 1839.

After an intermission, in which was proven the maxim "you snooze, you lose" when it comes to cookies, we heard Johannes Brahms' "Presto non assai" from Piano Trio in C major, Op. 101, 1886, which features a theme played by each instrument in succession, the one overlapping the other, not so complex as in a fugue, but more like ripples in a stream.

Then we heard Antonin Dvorak's "Allegro" from Piano Trio in E flat major, denoted "Dumky," 1890. Dmitri told us that in Czech, "dumky" means moody. This piece features each instrument in turn with many wonderful sustained violin trills.

The second-to-last piece on the program was Dmitry Shostakovich's "Largo" from Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67, 1949. This piece, composed by the great Russian composer so soon after World War II, played for us by a genius of a Russian violinist might well have brought tears to Stalin's eyes. It merged with Paul Schoenfield's contemporary piece, "Allegro" from Piano Trio, "Cafe Music," 1986, with all three instruments playing ragtime. This would have been a lively finish, but our applause brought more - a jazzy encore arranged by Judith herself.


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