Dalbavie’s Piano Trio the surprise hit of Bronfman chamber program

Mon Feb 15, 2010 at 10:39 am

By Bryant Manning

Pianist Yefim Bronfman gave the Chicago premiere of Dalbavie’s Piano Trio No. 1 Sunday afternoon with violinist Robert Chen and cellist Kenneth Olsen.

It’s virtually impossible to predict what new music might capture the popular imagination these days, but if Orchestra Hall’s rowdy response Sunday afternoon to Marc André Dalbavie’s Piano Trio No. 1 (2008) is any indicator, the 49-year-old Frenchman has himself a bona fide crowd-pleaser. It should be noted, too, that the local premiere of Dalbavie’s trio was sandwiched in between Beethoven and Brahms, and for an audience of mostly older concertgoers Sunday, it still received the warmest embrace.

And yet by no means is this one-movement trio a tuneful potboiler. While Pierre Boulez may have once described Dalbavie’s music as “easy to grasp,” there is still abundant mystery and a sharp personal signature aided by hypnotically creative sonorities. The lucidly etched narrative and crystal-clear three-part form are at the service of an incisive musical vocabulary.

Composer Marc-André Dalbavie.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman, violinist Robert Chen and cellist Ken Olsen were sterling performers and gave the work a highly caffeinated push. The music begins with slow staccato thuds, like a question-and-answer session between piano and strings—even calling to mind some form of musical joke. As the music pushes on and the timbral combinations grow more complex, Dalbavie creates a sound world that is fresh and beautiful.

Fragments of themes disappear and reappear, and some of the motoring accompaniment sounds like a page out of the American Minimalists. At one point, both violin and cello sounded evocatively out of tune, but this may have been at the behest of the score. Regardless, they pulled it off. The threesome offered a highly arresting performance, and let’s hope one of the area’s plentiful chamber groups will see fit to tackle this again soon.

The big and bad Brahms F Minor Quintet held fewer surprises, with violinists Qing Hou and Lei Hou and violist Lawrence Neuman. Oddly, the sonorities here sounded too sweet and sometimes thin, lacking the rich textured body that characterizes this music. Still, this nearly 40-minute performance surged with precision as it moved toward its otherworldly finale.

The afternoon began with Beethoven’s early Piano Quintet, Op. 16, here featuring fine individual performances but lacking combustible chemistry as a whole. Tempi were set at a relaxed pace, which seemed to squeeze out a lot of the drama. Bronfman was memorable in a furious chromatic passage that gave way to a simple nursery song, and bassoonist William Buchman, like cellist Olsen, filled in admirably for their ailing principal colleagues. Clarinetist Gregory Smith and oboist Eugene Izotov were wondrous woodwind companions, highlighted by their bold dulcet tones.

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