by Anthony Kershaw
Feb 14, 2013. Walter Hall, Toronto, ON — The members of The Duke Piano Trio are leading teachers in three of Canada’s major university music programs. Violinist Mark Fewer teaches at McGill in Montreal, cellist Tom Wiebe is encamped in London, ON at Western and Peter Longworth is a longtime professor at Glenn Gould, here in Toronto. All three have lengthy and equally impressive performing CVs.
The group has played together for almost twenty years. Just like the most combustible rock bands, classical chamber groups can experience problems: money, travel, relationships, health. Sounds like a marriage. Actually, it is a musical marriage of the most intimate kind. From the splendid music making I heard yesterday, this musical marriage seems very happy.
The trio’s masterful recital was played before a full and very enthusiastic Toronto audience, with music by Haydn and Mendelssohn, and two works new to me, the Piano Trio in F# minor by Armenian composer Arno Babajanian (1921 - 1983) and Café Music by University of Michigan Professor Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947).
The ‘Gypsy’ Piano Trio by Haydn (No. 39 in G Major) began the program. It took the players a few minutes to settle, especially balancing with the piano. By the flying finale, they had their bearings and all was well. Cellist Wiebe introduced the Babajanian work. What a find by the trio (the music was in a Vancouver collector’s library), post romantic with beautiful melodies. It’s a hearty stew of a piece and was given a spectacular performance.
We heard more of the same superb ensemble in the stunning Mendelssohn Trio. Much loved by Schumann, this great work tests all three players’ technique, none more than the pianist. Longworth was brilliant, here. But, it is their combined musicality and individual character that I remembered more than the wonderful technique. They breathe and phrase together and bounce musical ideas off each other on the fly. A long relationship with years of practice, playing and travelling together, yes, but the spice and excitement are still there.
Mark Fewer, who is a mercurial spirit when playing and speaking, introduced the Schoenfield work. Inspired by dinner music the composer heard once in a restaurant, it’s pure pastiche. This type of music is endlessly annoying to me — even the Duke’s splendid performance could not convince me of its merit. But, don’t believe this Grinch. The audience lapped it up.
Quality chamber music performance is alive and well in Canada. We are fortunate to have organizations such as the venerable Women’s Musical Club of Toronto to promote superb Canadian groups like The Duke Piano Trio. If they appear in your neck of the woods, I urge you to attend.
Mark Fewer, violin
Thomas Wiebe, cello
Peter Longworth, piano
Franz Joseph Haydn – Piano Trio No. 39, in G Major, “Gypsy” Hob.XV/25
Arno Babajanian – Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor
Paul Schoenfield – Café Music
Felix Mendelssohn – Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op.49