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Verdehr Trio, Not Quite Together

Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page C10

When Walter Verdehr and Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr decided to make beautiful music together, they had to solve the problem of their mixed marriage. Walter is a string player -- a violinist -- and Elsa plays the clarinet. There just wasn't that much chamber music around for the two to play together, even with the addition of a pianist. So they began to commission works, racking up 170 new pieces over the past third of a century.

The Verdehr Trio showed more initiative than artistry in their performance Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection. The group hacked through an arrangement of a Beethoven sonata, the only "old" piece on the program.

Elsa's clarinet sound was brash and overblown in contrast with Walter's thin tone. Only pianist Silvia Roederer was in control with stylistically appropriate articulation.

Similarly, the world premiere of Kevin Puts's Three Nocturnes failed to jell. Each instrument had its turn in the spotlight with aria-like melodies and sensual lines against a backdrop of minimalism in this attractive triptych. But intonation problems surfaced all too often, and the strong clarinet tended to overpower the violin.

The trio was far more comfortable playing "Verdehr Trio," Op. 97, written in 1992 by Gottfried von Einem. Their bold enthusiasm and capable nuance in this cohesive, Stravinskyesque piece made it apparent that it is a much-loved work for them. Libby Larsen's delightful "Slang" was a showcase for all three, with Roederer especially reveling in the jazzy rhythms.

It's laudable that the Verdehr Trio has commissioned an entire repertoire. It's just too bad that in this case, the final result wasn't better performed.

-- Gail Wein

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