ATOS Trio opens Mandel Hall series with emotion and brilliance

Sat Oct 10, 2009 at 12:45 pm

By Gerald Fisher

The ATOS Trio opened the University of Chicago Presents season Friday night at Mandel Hall.

In their Chicago debut, the ATOS Trio from Germany served up two of the most substantial piano trios in the literature with muscular virtuosity. The trios by Mendelssohn and Brahms challenge the performers and their audience with near-orchestral complexity and dynamism. Hearing them together in these excellent performances was to hear Mendelssohn morph into Brahms and Brahms into Mendelssohn, with the gravitas of the one and the mercurial lightness of the other infusing both pieces.  

The ATOS Trio’s title is an acronym formed from the names of the artists: violinist Annette von Hehn, pianist Thomas Hoppe and cellist Stefan Heinemeyer. The young musicians recently won the prestigious Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award, among the benefits of which is a fully-funded two-year tour of some of the finest chamber music series in the country, including the venerable University of Chicago Presents Friday night.  

The concert, marking the opening of the 2009-2010 season at Mandel Hall, began with a brisk run-through of a Haydn Piano Trio (Hob.XV:9) which sounded dry in the acoustics of this auditorium. Notable, however, was that the group played together with obvious rapport. The duetting between the violin and cello in the work’s second movement was a herald of good things to come. 

And, indeed, Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 2 in C minor was played with remarkable technical brilliance throughout. From the beginning it was plain that this was a unified ensemble, not just three gifted soloists. The singing lines of the first movement were effectively contrasted with bursts of fortissimo passagework. All that was needed was just that little bit of tonal beauty to coat the piece.

Another problem emerged by the time the finale rolled around. The music was played with almost Brahmsian panache and breathless accuracy but the group had expended so much energy in the earlier dynamic passages leading to the climax that they had little to spare for a bigger ending.

The situation was much the same with  Brahms’ great Trio No. 1 in B major. Here again the playing was brilliant and emotive by turns, with the broad and melodic opening Allegro con  brio played with feeling and style, the playful Scherzo sounding at first like Mendelssohn and the rapt Adagio coming to an exquisite and hushed end. But once again in this piece the concluding Allegro was attacked so fiercely throughout that it produced the conundrum of having nowhere to go dynamically since nothing had been held in reserve.  

Still, a bracing performance of both works and much musical substance to enjoy. The ATOS Trio should be around for some time to come and hopefully will include Chicago in their itinerary again.

Posted in Performances

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