Jerry Dubins, Fanfare magazine
In the never-ending game of one-upmanship, inevitably there must be winners and losers. That’s the sad truth of the matter. It’s a somewhat less harsh way of putting it, when we say that the “perfect is enemy of the good.”
The Trio Oreade came together in its current makeup in 2012, when cellist Christine Hu came on board. The two other members of this relatively young-looking female threesome are Yukiko Ishibashi, violin, and Ursula Sarnsthein, viola. The group calls Zurich its home base, and they play modernized Stradivari instruments on loan to them from Rolf Habisreutinger’s Stradivari Foundation.
As a string trio, the Oreade made its debut in May of 2014 in Zurich’s Tonhalle, and a second debut (isn’t that an oxymoron?) at the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad in August, 2016. This is not, however, the Oreade’s debut album. That designation goes to a 2015 combination audio and Blu-ray set containing string trios by Beethoven, Schubert, Françaix, and Martinů.
The Oreade’s Mozart Divertimento is very good, but the good’s “enemy” is this case is a recording of the work by the Ssens Trio on Lawo, which I reviewed in just the last issue, 43:2, and which I declared to be the best performance of the piece I’d ever heard. In short, the Oreade’s players don’t quite match the crispness of the Ssens’s articulation. Moreover, Yukiko Ishibashi, the Oreade’s violinist, lags rhythmically behind on a number of her entrances where her bars begin with a 16th-note rest followed by a run of 16th notes, as, for example, in each of the three bars leading up to the first-movement, double-bar repeat. She’s a hair late each time. I give her the benefit of the doubt that she can count, so I attribute it instead to a calculated affect on her part, which she believes adds expectancy to the hesitation.
Again, this is a performance among many which, in my judgment, is easily a contender for second prize, but it just doesn’t quite make it into that magic first-prize circle. Ssens plays the work in a way that transcends its “divertimento” implications. In the Ssens’s hands, it becomes the big, important work Mozart may well have intended it to be. For all its fine effort, the Trio Oreade sounds soft-centered and less alive to the music’s potential for expression and revelation. That, I suspect, is at least partially due to the lack of rhythmic sharpness.
The String Trio fragment in G Major, K Anh. 66/562e, is presumed to date from 1788, the same year in which the Divertimento was composed, but it saw publication for the first time only as recently as 1975. All 91 bars of a first movement exposition with double-bar repeat are fully written out, but Mozart suddenly abandoned the development after only nine bars, the last two of which are empty except for a descending scale in quarter notes in the violin.
Why? No one knows. Might it have been a trial balloon for the Divertimento, one that Mozart felt was materially unsustainable, and so he started all over again? Or was he preoccupied with other projects, such as his last three symphonies and other major works dating from 1788? The more likely explanation, I think, is that the music is pretty lame when measured against Mozart’s masterpieces from this late period, and he knew it. No point in spilling good ink after bad.
The fragment is performed here by the Trio Oreade in a completion by Franz Beyer, so at least the thing doesn’t stop mid-phrase, as the violin’s descending scale trips down the stairs.
An “A” for effort, but the results, in my opinion, earn only a “B” at best.
- Audio CD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Hybrid SACD - DSD
- Label: Ars Produktion
- ASIN: B07SQBXNQL
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