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Chamber Music – with Horns?
The Prometheus Trio gets adventurous with the MSO's Matthew Annin.

Matthew Annin

Eclecticism has always been a high calling of the Prometheus Trio. So when the group had the chance to perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Matthew Annin, they didn’t pass it up.

This was despite the fact that music for piano trio (violin, cello and piano) together with horn (Annin’s instrument) is practically non-existent. Instead, the trio and Annin played heady game of musical chairs, mixing and matching duets and trios that gave all the players their share of opportunities.

So the program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music included both rarities and relative chestnuts. And was a delight from beginning to end.

Beethoven’s early c-minor Piano Trio was a playful beginning. This is Beethoven at his wittiest, but it’s not without its technical challenges, particularly in the piano part, which features rapid runs underneath the lyrical string melodies, or—in the third movement—leading in to them. Stefanie Jacob handled them with just the right feeling, delicate but still substantial. And the trio navigated the tricky rhythms in the third movement, and had a good time doing so. There were smiles all around.

Annin joined cellist Scott Tisdel for the next piece, David Amram’s “Three Songs for Marlboro,” written in 1962 while Amram—a horn player himself—was at the Marlboro Music Festival. The combination of horn and cello is an interesting match: they are instruments of similar range but very different sonorities. And Amram uses each instrument in creative ways, often pitting each against the other in angular, cat-and-mouse melodies. Other times, there is a more traditional solo-accompanist feel, with the horn sounding deep ostinatos while the cello plays cascading figures. It’s a bravura piece that Tisdel and Annin ended with a spectacular jazzy flourish.

If hints of jazz came off Amram’s duo, Bohuslav Martinu’s Duo No. 1 had more than a hint of the eastern European “gypsy” inflections. Violinist Timothy Clabunde joined Tisdel in the two sections—the first a deliberate “Preludium” of parallel harmonies that hinted at the mysterious darkness of early Stravinsky. It was off to the races in the second section, however, with passages of dance-like double stops and virtuoso unison lines. It was played impressively

The Trio for Piano, Violin & Waldhorn (Op. 40) by Brahms is probably the best known work on the program. Written during a country summer near Baden-Baden, the piece uses the horn in ways you might expect, calling to mind the pastoral environment as well as the occasional bursts of horn. Annin played true to the Waldhorn style, with an assertive tone. But he and Klabunde found the aching lyricism of the classic Brahms melody in the beautiful adagio, before galloping into the finale with the evocation of galloping horses and hunting calls.

Since the group couldn’t find a quartet to play together, they created their own for a well-deserved encore—a gorgeous arrangement of the Beach Boys’s “God Only Knows.”

The program repeats Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

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