Concert review: German ensemble Atos Trio’s perfect harmony yields masterpieces

April 8, 2011

The Atos Trio closed out the Fortas concert series at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night with a resoundingly fine performance. This German group, formed in 2003, has risen steadily through the ranks to become one of the elite piano trios before the public today. In a program of Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak, it demonstrated, phrase by phrase, why in-depth study and repeated performances are important.

I say this not just to take a shot at Midori and Friends, who appeared in the same hall the previous evening (and played the same Haydn trio, almost unrecognizable compared with Atos’s mellifluous and richly detailed performance), but to decry a growing trend in the profession generally. The “cross-pollination” so prevalent today, whereby young musicians flit between a variety of different projects, genres and styles, pays dividends in some ways but often diminishes the product in traditional repertoire. A great interpretation of a classic masterpiece cannot be rushed, no matter how brilliant the musicians involved.

From their first notes, Atos made clear that they were saying something, something that had been discussed and worked on together over a long period. Every gesture and detail was part of a larger overall vision.

Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio was the least successful — the group adopted a dryer “classical” sound even at expressive climaxes. Although the intent may have been to heighten the tension, the effect was constricting. And ensemble between the strings in the Largo was imperfect, the only time all evening. But in Dvorak’s Trio, Op. 65, the romantic fervor was balanced by rigorous attention to dynamics and balances. A superb concert by a wonderful group.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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