July 28, 2021

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts Continues Online Series

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts presented the second of its digital series last week with a livestream performance of the New York City-based Horszowski Trio. In a concert broadcast from the Hillman Performance Hall on the campus of Westminster Conservatory last Monday night, violinist Jesse Mills, cellist Ole Akahoshi, and pianist Rieko Aizawa presented a program of 19th- and 20th-century chamber music.

Named after the pre-eminent 20th-century Polish American pianist Mieczysław Horszowski, the Horszowski Trio draws its inspiration from the pianist and pedagogue who lived to be nearly 101 and had one of the longest careers in performing arts history. Ensemble pianist Aizawa was Horszowski’s last student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, creating a link to a golden age of piano performance stretching back more than a century. Also committed to contemporary music, the Trio has made significant inroads into the international chamber music arena in its 10-year history.

Franz Schubert’s 1827 Notturno in E-flat major, Op. 148 was unusual in the composer’s repertory in that no one has been able to discern why the piece was written. Also known as Adagio, this piano trio may have been a rejected movement of another larger work. Regardless of its origin, the Notturno abounds with Schubert’s trademark melodic writing, which the Horszowski Trio brought out well through clean intervals between the strings and a flowing piano accompaniment. Changes in musical mood were expertly handled, and the music’s ebb and flow was continuous. Violinist Mills and cellist Akahoshi communicated well throughout the piece, with pianist Aizawa providing cascading arpeggios to close this “hidden treasure” from the 19th century.

Like the Horszowski Trio’s namesake, British American composer and violist Rebecca Clarke lived through much of the 20th century, but her music has only begun to be recently published. Clarke composed the 1921 Piano Trio for a competition, employing a conservative harmonic language at a time when Arnold Schoenberg and the Viennese School were advocating atonality. With the work’s ferocious opening piano chords, one can hear why this Trio might have been considered unusual for its time. The Horszowski Trio played the opening motto intensely, with driving repeated notes. In the first movement, Mills effectively played an extended melodic line against a piano accompaniment that used the full range of the keyboard. The movement also featured a refined dialogue between Mills and cellist Akahoshi.

Aizawa opened the third movement with precise and forceful piano playing, while managing to maintain melodic direction within the driving rhythms. This Trio was an appealing piece, with a sweet open melody from the violin and very nimble playing required from all instruments to close the work.

The Horszowski Trio closed Monday night’s performance with a chamber work rooted in tragedy. Bedřich Smetana’s Trio in G Minor may have been the piece which put this composer on the map, but its origins were in poignancy and grief. Smetana had three daughters who died at a very young age, and the memory of his oldest daughter in particular inspired him to incorporate her favorite musical tunes into the Trio. Like the music of fellow Czech composer Antonin Dvorák, the Trio is infused with Eastern European folk music, but also shows the influence of such composers as Chopin, especially in the intricate piano accompaniment.

Violinist Mills began the three-movement Trio with a mournful tune full of descending intervals to denote weeping, answered by a reassuring melody from the cello and a spirited and youthful piano accompaniment. The chipper character of Aizawa’s piano accompaniment suggested child’s play, with a triumphant feel recurring throughout the work. Mills and Akahoshi played several cello/violin duet passages in the piece, emphasizing a bit of light-heartedness between the instruments. Akahoshi had several opportunities to demonstrate elegant solo cello playing, including a reflective melodic line in the closing Finale. A fast right hand from Aizawa at the piano led the movement, and this concise and entertaining concert, to a subtly joyful close.

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts will present its final digital performance of the season on Tuesday, August 10 at 7:30 p.m. Featured in this livestream will be the Dorian Wind Quintet; the program will be announced closer to the performance date. Information about accessing this concert, as well as past performances this season, can be found on the Chamber Concerts website at princetonsummerchamberconcerts.org.