July 29, 2020

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts Presents Manhattan Chamber Players in Online Performance of Beethoven

By Nancy Plum

Although unable to appear live in Princeton this summer as part of Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts, Manhattan Chamber Players did not want to miss out on Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, and made the most of technology by presenting an online performance last Wednesday night in a continuation of  the Chamber Concerts “Chamber Music Wednesdays” series. 

A collective of 22 New York-based musicians, Manhattan Chamber Players performs in a variety of flexible combinations — in Wednesday night’s performance, as a string trio. A true family string ensemble, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt; her husband, cellist Brook Speltz; and his brother, violinist Brendan Speltz, presented Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, Opus 9, No. 1, recorded during the current pandemic in a private home in Philadelphia. In an online performance introduced by the ensemble’s Artistic Director Luke Fleming, van de Stadt and the Speltz brothers presented a clean and unified performance of this work, showing why Beethoven’s string trios can easily stand up against his more substantial and more well-known string quartets.

Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792 to study with Franz Josef Haydn, quickly embracing the courtly Viennese chamber music style of Haydn and wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. String Quartet in G Major was the first of three string trios comprising Beethoven’s Opus 9, composed between 1797 and 1798. String Trio No. 1 showed the clear influence of Mozart’s 1788 Divertimento in E-flat Major, a sizeable work considered the first piece in the string trio genre by any composer, but also demonstrated Beethoven’s forward-thinking Romantic musical ideas.  

In  Wednesday night’s performance of Beethoven’s String Trio, the first movement
introductory “Adagio” exhibited a great deal of light teasing as played by the Manhattan Chamber Players musicians, with violinist Speltz and violist Pajaro-van de Stadt leading the music energetically to an “Allegro.”  Pajaro-van de Stadt also handled well the quick agitato passages of the close to this movement, and throughout all four movements, she showed especially careful communication with the other two players, aiding the tight ensemble sound.  

The second movement “Adagio” featured violinist Brendan Speltz bringing out well a cantabile melody, and all players demonstrated delicate phrasing. Also heard in this movement was an elegant duet between viola and cello. The third movement “Scherzo’ was lighter in nature than scherzi in Beethoven’s later string chamber music, with decisive contrasting “Trios” providing the musicians an opportunity to deftly switch musical styles.  

The final “Presto,” and in particular the work’s closing passages, required nimble fingering from all players, with the musicians effectively driving the rhythm forward. The players also emphasized well both the perpetual motion main theme and lyrical complementary melody. In typical Beethoven fashion, this movement included a number of well-executed sforzandi and a fast and furious ending to close the piece.  

Each of these online presentations of Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts has been slightly more complex than the one before, providing digital audiences with a bit of music education as well as entertainment on a summer night. Chamber Concerts has worked hard to make these online concerts happen, and all musical participants, who hopefully will be live and in person next summer, seemed happy to oblige.  

The final online performance of Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts “Chamber Music Wednesdays” series will take place Wednesday, July 29. This concert will feature the Poulenc Trio and will include an encore performance from 2018 of Trains of Thought by Princeton University composer Viet Cuong, as well as a version of this work with animation. The performance will launch at 7:30 p.m. and can be accessed at  princetonsummerchamberconcerts.org