Verdehr Trio's Pioneering Path

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Verdehr Trio has created a new type of musical composition, one designed for its unique ensemble of violin, clarinet and piano (the clarinet replacing the cello of the traditional piano trio). As with the "invention" of opera in late-Renaissance Italy or of the classical symphony in 18th-century Germany, creating a musical genre makes news in the arts world. Since the '70s, the Verdehr has commissioned more than 200 new works, and two recent examples were showcased Wednesday at the Austrian Embassy: a pair of world premieres by Austrian composers, both of them for the trio's rare instrumental combination.

Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr plumbed the clarinet's astonishing array of colors, including its rich "chalumeau" register (lowest notes), with the resulting timbral soundscape artfully balanced by violinist Walter Verdehr and pianist Silvia Roederer.

Wednesday's premieres -- of Wolfram Wagner's Trio (2005) and Gernot Wolfgang's "Sketch Book" (2007) -- were but part of an imaginative and wide-ranging program that included four little-known Mozart morsels, an arrangement of an orchestral excerpt from Tchaikovsky's ballet "Sleeping Beauty," two of Brahms's Hungarian Dances (originally for piano duet) and Thomas Christian David's clever "Schubertiade," variations based on Schubert's late Piano Sonata in A.

Wagner forged his trio with an assortment of four distinctly characterized textures and styles, all clearly tonal. The prelude's closely entwined instrumental dialogue gave way to a spirited scherzo, an impassioned contrapuntal intermezzo and a finale in jaunty jazz style. Wolfgang's visual orientation impelled his "Sketch Book," with music painting various scenes, such as an Irish landscape (with a bagpipe-like drone) and a bluesy recollection of the American South.

-- Cecelia Porter

© 2008 The Washington Post Company