The first time I heard Franz Schubert’s great “Piano Quintet in A Major,” Op. 114, D. 667, which everyone knows as the “Trout Quintet,” it just seemed so playful and joyful, I thought of it as five characters acting out a play.
The four string instruments, violin, viola, cello and double bass, were trout of various sizes and ages. The piano was the water in which they swam around. The playful little pattern on the piano that repeats throughout the piece was air bubbling up from the fish playing games.
Many years later, I came across a remark made by Robert Schumann, who knew and understood Schubert better than anyone. He called Schubert a “guileless child romping among giants.” It seemed to confirm what I had thought. Inside this brilliant piece of music, made up of a theme and a magnificent set of variations,
Schubert had constructed a play of the fish in water, sometimes the water shaping the fish’s movements, sometimes the fish causing reactions in the water.
When I heard the “Trout” live on Sunday evening at Oak Ridge Civic Music Association’s first Coffee Concert of the season, at First United Presbyterian Church on the Turnpike, with the Trillium Piano Trio, joined by violist Shelley Armer and double bassist Nick Caux, it all seemed to fit.
Trillium’s programs are consistently a delight. Violinist Allison Maerker Garner, cellist Alicia Randisi Hooker and pianist Robert Bonham work at playing to the highest level. Adding local professional violist Shelley Armer and gifted double bass player, Nick Caux, a Maryville High School senior, created an ensemble that delivered an exciting and satisfying performance.
Trillium opened this free concert with an uncommon performance of Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in B Flat Major,” Op. 97, written in 1811. It was unusual in that Trillium played all of the repeats, the sets of measures that are played multiple times, something that is almost never heard in live performances.
It wasn’t a flawless performance, but the opportunity to hear it as Beethoven meant it to be performed overshadowed its weaknesses. Commonly known as the “Archduke Trio” because of its dedication to the Archduke Rudolph of Austria, the youngest of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II’s 12 children, it was Beethoven’s last composition that he performed himself.
Bonham is an extraordinary pianist. The clarity of his playing of the melodies in the majestic first movement made them easy to follow when they were passed to the violin or the cello for further exposition.
The middle movements took a darker turn, almost sorrowful, especially in the moments played by Hooker’s cello.
But that changed back to the mood of the opening in the final movement that is playful and joyful.
It was a sensibility that fits how the Trillium approaches all of the music they play. Their goal is to educate and make music indispensable to the listener as well as entertain.
ORCMA’s upcoming concerts, as well as information to purchase tickets, can be found at www.ORCMA.org.
Trillium Piano Trio can be followed on Facebook.