Salon Piano Series Flips the Script

Together for the first time, Lippi Trio sounds seasoned


It has been proven repeatedly that the greatest works in the realm of chamber music invariably receive their greatest performances from players who have played together for years; many well-known string quartet members will tell you that their professional relationships are often closer than their marriages.

So the curiosity bar was raised when the close of the Salon Piano Series was announced, with the Isabella Lippi Trio (pictured above, courtesy of Farley’s House of Pianos), tackling three undisputed masterpieces of the piano trio repertoire. One learned after the evening, over the usually lovely reception presented at Farley’s House of Pianos, that violinist Lippi, cellist Paula Kosower, and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang had all played together—in other ensembles. But in the intimate confines of the Farley’s showroom last Friday, they tackled piano trios of Mozart, Shostakovich and Dvorak.

There’s no reason to heighten the suspense; there were enough wonderful stretches in the concert that yours truly (possibly among others), encouraged them to play together as a trio some more.

Of course, no event at the Salon Piano Series takes place without a compelling keyboard, lovingly restored by Tim Farley, being put to the use it was intended for. Huang had the distinct pleasure, and by the looks of it, a delightful time, in plying his craft on a 1904 Chickering. The opening work was the K. 502 Trio of Mozart, from that incredibly bountiful year of 1786 (The Marriage of Figaro, among other things, was written that year). I don’t care what anyone says about this being a work in which Mozart gave the cello a more prominent role—Kosower’s beautiful sound and nuanced phrasing were still underutilized. But we did learn at once that Huang and the Chickering would provide a stimulating and translucent sound all night, and Lippi would lead with quiet assurance.

The real test came via Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, a searing work from 1944 that both mourned the loss of a dear friend and weeps in the finale (with a stubbornly grotesque dance) for the Jews perishing in the pogroms during World War II. One has to see and hear the opening, with high cello harmonics that make it sound like an anguished violin, and then the violin answering in its low register, sounding like a mournful cello. The work is full of such paradoxes, put to effective use in forcing us to confront the horror and aftermath of those terrible years. Few groups choose to play the work, and never lightly, and Lippi and friends are to be commended for giving us a rare chance to come to grips with it in live performance. I can only recall hearing it live one other time; suffice to say that it is a work that makes one soon stop critiquing technique or much of anything else. This is raw emotion of the kind that typically keeps an audience silent for a long time after applause would normally begin. The ovation built slowly, and the Lippi Trio earned every bit of the response.

The second half brought us to a happier place…most of the time. The final piano trio of Dvorak is known as the “Dumky,” for its insistence on using that Bohemian folk music form exclusively in all of its six movements. A dumka is usually both brooding/melancholic and intensely energetic in the same breath, so to speak. Again, it is no mean trick to balance the constant duality of the emotional swings, not to mention pour out Dvorak’s poignant melodies and rich harmonies. Here, as in the Shostakovich, we received the full glory of Kosower’s cello, alternately nimble and dark with velvety tone. If the threesome had not played as a trio before, there were plenty of moments one could discern their expertise from much other small ensemble playing.

So now we bid a reluctant farewell to another of our favorite indoor musical seasons, and eagerly await what the Salon Piano Series has in store for 2017-2018. The events frequently are sold out, but why tickets aren’t actually being scalped on Seybold Road is beyond me. Don’t take any chances: Find a time next season to experience solo piano or an ensemble in an intimate setting, with exquisite pianos, and an informal reception that affords the chance to really talk with the musicians, Tim and Renee Farley, or fellow fans of fine music.

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