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Review: Weiss Kaplan Newman Trio at the Austin Chamber Music Festival

Staff Writer
Austin 360

It’s the start of that most wonderful time of the year for chamber music aficionados, as the Austin Chamber Music Center’s summer festival got underway with its first weekend of concerts from touring ensembles, including an opening set by the Weiss Kaplan Newman Trio.

Defying its popularity-proof name, the WKN piano trio drew a sizeable crowd to Bates Recital Hall at UT, playing early Beethoven, some contemporary Russian music, and a wonderful Dvorak trio.

The Beethoven (“Piano Trio in E Flat Major”) was, as the Chamber Music Center’s artistic director Michelle Schumann explained, the first piece that Beethoven wanted published in his oeuvre: Opus 1, No. 1. WKN’s playing was expressive and tight, especially in the expansive first movement.

A work by living Russian composer, Lera Auerbach (b. 1973), “Tryptich, the Mirror with Three Faces,” was a complete change of pace. Auerbach’s gotten good reviews with experimental premieres in San Francisco and elsewhere, (a recent production of one of her operas required the audience to be blindfolded), and there are a dozen different moods in this work, starting with a blast of dissonant chords and a cello theme that could only be at home in Eastern Europe or Russia. Bela Bartok is a clear touchstone here, though Auerbach’s piece tended to be a little gentler, with a variety of sul pont scratches, muted string sections and compelling pizzicato counterpoint and rather beautiful lyrical bits. Certainly interesting, if a little root-less.

Weiss Kaplan Newman aren’t the sort of ensemble whose performances will be forever seared into your brain (that’s more likely to happen during the upcoming festival performance by the world-class Emerson Quartet), but their last piece, Dvorak’s “Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op. 21,” was an ideal choice and a strong finale.

WKN’s performance evoked a feeling of nostalgia, a kind of mournful searching, that suited Dvorak’s beautiful work. All the piano texture, swirled into the cello’s long dark lines to created a moving version of this dense, complex, yet-hummable piece.

This Austin Chamber Music Festival concert was broadcast live on Austin classical radio station, KMFA. So regular patrons of Bates Hall certainly noted a recent and welcome change in the hall: Gone are the much (silently) reviled microphone stands that blocked lines of sight for the audience. Replacing them are ceiling-mounted mics that seem to be entirely out of the way. An improvement long overdue.

The 2014 Austin Chamber Music Festival continues through July 29, with performances by the Calder Quartet, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, and the 9-time Grammy winners, the Emerson String Quartet. There are also several ventures into tango and world music, as well as outreach concerts at locations as varied as the Blanton Museum and the Thinkery. www.austinchambermusic.org