The Kennedy Center’s extensive “Music of Budapest, Prague, and Vienna” festival came to a close with a solid performance Thursday by the Eben Trio in the Terrace Theater. It was the U.S. debut of this talented Czech group, formed in 2003 as the Puella Trio, and now adjusting to a new violinist while still completing its studies. But the trio gave quite a good account of itself in works of Petr Fiala, Smetana and Dvorak.
Still, the Eben needs to make a better first impression; professional groups are usually able to avoid the extensive onstage tuning we were subjected to before the musicians played a note. That said, the Eben is a well-matched ensemble. Both string players have a fast, slightly astringent vibrato, but produce clean, centered sounds with good intonation.
Pianist Terezie Fialova’s affect is businesslike, almost detached. She needs to listen more closely, as she is not yet completely successful in taming a full-size grand with the lid open; too often she swamped the cellist, particularly when playing unisons. But she is a natural pianist with an efficient technique; the clarity was excellent in the difficult finale of the Smetana Trio.
Programming-wise, I would say that offering the two most famous Czech trios in the repertoire should’ve satisfied the festival-theme requirement. The inclusion of the wan, derivative Fiala trio (1980) robbed us of a chance to hear this promising group in great classical works where it could really show its range and mettle.
In Dvorak’s iconic “Dumky” Trio, the Eben startled with its rapid tempos and relatively narrow expressive range throughout. It may not be for a critic in Washington to tell Czech artists how to play their own music, but the group’s famous forebear, the venerable Suk Trio, painted on a far broader canvass, in tempo and tone color (we won’t even speak of the Beaux Arts Trio). How much of what we heard on Thursday was modern revisionist Czech musical style and how much was simply youthful impetuosity, I couldn’t say. The Eben is worth hearing, with a strong, forthright style, but it also has some growing and seasoning to do.
Battey is a freelance writer.