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October 27, 2011

Peabody Trio program offers youthful and mature Mahler

Thanks to the Mahler centennial year (he died, much too young, in 1911), his music has been performed even more often than usual. No complaints about that, of course. We diehard Mahler-ites never entirely get our fill.

The composer has been getting a lot of attention at the Peabody Institute lately.

On Saturday, the Adagio from the Symphony No. 10 received quite an effective performance.

Tuesday brought a welcome opportunity to hear the single surviving movement of his A minor Piano Quartet, composed when he was about 16; and the "Kindertotenlieder," one of Mahler's most personal and affecting works.

The quartet fragment reveals very little of the composer Mahler would become, but it sure does proclaim a very serious talent.

All of about 16 at the time, Mahler had absorbed the harmonic language of the German romanticists and had a good grasp on the principals of thematic development. In this fascinating memento of his youth, Mahler may have ... 

overworked that development angle a little bit, but he does get some wonderful drama out of his principal melodic idea.

The moody music inspired an absorbing, sensitively nuanced account from the Peabody Trio, joined by violist Maria Lambros. The quality of performance made you wish all the more that Mahler had completed the quartet.

Earlier in the evening, the trio's pianist, Seth Knopp, accompanied baritone William Sharp in "Kindertotenlieder."

Better known and more richly vivid in the orchestral version, these bittersweet songs on the loss of children can work well in the more intimate setting.

Sharp, a superbly communicative vocal artist, reached deeply into the heart of the texts as he sculpted the melodic lines.

The higher peaks of those lines necessitated some switches to falsetto that didn't always come off smoothly, but that was of little consequence given how affecting the baritone's interpretations were.

I wish Knopp could have extracted more tonal warmth out of the piano, but his playing was always supportive. His eloquent phrasing at the close of the final song proved especially satisfying.

Music of Ravel framed the evening. I had to slip out before the A minor Piano Trio that capped the concert, but I did hear Violaine Melancon and Natasha Brofsky give a well-meshed, expressive performance of the Sonata for Violin and Cello at the start.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Peabody Institute

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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