Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Luisi in New York II – Brahms 2 – Eroica Trio plays Beethoven

Concerto in C for piano, violin and cello, Op.56
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Eroica Trio [Erika Nickrenz (piano), Susie Park (violin) & Sara Sant’Ambrogio (cello)]

Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Fabio Luisi

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 14 November, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Concerned with image as much as artistry, the Eroica Trio’s biography extolled the group’s “technical virtuosity, irresistible enthusiasm, and sensual elegance”. Regarding the latter, the glittery, clingy gowns missed on both accounts, and no amount of enthusiastic smiling and tossing one’s blonde mane about could substitute for a meaningful performance. As for technical virtuosity, the only part of the description which has anything to do with music, it left much to be desired, except for Erika Nickrenz. Both string players were plagued with recurring intonation problems, most notably the painfully sharp cello solo at the beginning of the slow movement. In addition, Sara Sant’Ambrogio’s tone not only was color-less and without modulation, but it turned harsh and aggressive in loud passages. The Eroica Trio claims to perform “the Beethoven Triple Concerto more frequently than any other trio in the world”, yet there was nothing in the playing which remotely hinted at any special insight. In spite of the stylish accompaniment by Fabio Luisi and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Eroica Trio gave a superficial, generic reading of the piece and seemed more at home with the encore, Astor Piazzolla’s Tango ‘Oblivion’.

Fabio LuisiFrom the very beginning for the Brahms it was obvious that Luisi cherishes the deep, burnished sound of the VSO’s string section. Barely taking note of woodwind and brass, he reveled in it, and it bloomed even in the problematic acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall. In addition, the orchestra is also capable of playing pianissimos which lose no substance, but are floating on a cushion of air. And while one might wish for a more prominent horn sound at times, most notably in the first movement solo, it was interesting to hear the distinctive timbre of the Vienna instruments which blend perfectly with the woodwind. This was a full-bodied reading of the piece, including the first-movement exposition repeat, with moderate tempos throughout, and observing many of the performance traditions which have accumulated over the years. Therein, however, lay some problems. When in the first movement the woodwind restatement of the lyrical theme was preceded by a slowing down every time, it became a mannered effect. Similarly, the second theme in the finale both times was slowed to such an extent that it seemed out of context and broke the flow. And while the ultimate coda of the symphony is often treated as a stretto, pushing the tempo forward, the sudden shift into high gear for the last few bars was a real shock.

As Luisi had proved the previous night with a thoroughly convincing performance of Beethoven’s Seventh, he is a sensitive musician with a very intuitive response. The Brahms, in comparison, sounded a trifle pre-meditated and would have benefitted from more trust in his instincts. These were in ample evidence in a fleet but exquisitely nuanced Overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro as an encore (also as the night before), the large ensemble sounding like an intimate chamber orchestra.

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