Oregon Bach Festival Wednesday, June 29, 2016: A Trio of Trios at Beall Hall

Beall Hall is a great place to hear chamber music and especially to hear very small ensembles: The room is so lively and sensitive it’s like sitting inside a giant musical instrument. The air rings like a bell with the slightest touch from the musicians, and last night’s string trio made the most of it.

The short opening Haydn trio had great thoughtfulness and just the right amount of whimsy. The musicians gave each section of each movement its own distinct voice, like a series of characters jumping onstage, each with his or her own costume and personality. Violinist Ida Kavafian played with great command, without sacrificing buoyancy and fun.

In the D-major Beethoven, the trio showed audacious rhythmic skill, giving listeners that pleasingly headlong feeling of almost but not quite stretching it too far. This was especially true in the Andante quasi allegretto, where the the musicians maintained a confident pulse while shifting speed within a phrase or even a single bar.

The effect was a little like the fun of being on a thrill ride at the County fair: you know you’re safe, so you can just sit back and enjoy the wonderfully delirious momentum.

Somehow, Beethoven can make a violin, a cello and a viola sound like a whole orchestra. The trio’s fortissimos in this piece didn’t sound like three strings hitting a chord together, but rather like the big, oceanic swells of one of the composer’s symphonies.

The six-movement Mozart Divertimento that made up the second half of the concert gave many opportunities to hear each instrument shine on its own, as delicious Mozart melodies bounced from one to another.  What a treat to hear Peter Wiley, cellist of the Guarneri String Quartet, here in Eugene. He played with a mesmerising, silky tone and hypnotic composure.  And violist Steven Tenenbom–especially in the Allegro–seized the audience’s attention with his playing, completely free while completely assured, delightfully filling the hall with music.

Accenting the Divertimento, a less-enthralled patron in front of us decided to contribute to the performance by taking out her glowing smartphone, and plainly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, rearranging her personal contacts, and sending a few emails, as the music played. (A thought: Would Mozart have written anything if there’d been Snapchat or Vine in the 1700’s? Would we have his oeuvre of miraculous work if he’d had access to an endless supply of distracting baby panda videos? Discuss.)

After finishing with her mid-concert online foray, the audience member pulled out her checkbook, and during the softest, most achingly beautiful part of the andante, made a big show of writing a check — even accounting for it in her checkbook ledger.

I know they wouldn’t accept it, but… let’s hope it was a tip for the musicians.

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