Music Review: Trio con Brio Copenhagen at Library of Congress

Thursday, February 19, 2009; 8:21 PM

Trio con Brio Copenhagen, a piano trio formed in Vienna in 1999, gave a mostly Mendelssohn concert at the Library of Congress on Wednesday night. At a pre-concert lecture, preeminent Mendelssohn scholar R. Larry Todd described the composer as "extremely versatile" in absorbing new styles, happy to build on musical tradition rather than breaking away from it. The program focused first on Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio, to exemplify one of the many influences on the 16-year-old Mendelssohn.

Unlike the more democratic string quartet, the combination of violin, cello and piano often casts the pianist as first among equals, and Danish pianist Jens Elvekjær towered over his colleagues for his big-boned sound and the sheer quantity of notes that passed under his fingers, even adding delightful embellishments to the return of the Scherzo in the second movement. Korean sisters Soo-Jin Hong and Soo-Kyung Hong, the latter best featured in the opening "Song Without Words" for cello by Mendelssohn, contributed more velvety sounds, as at the serene entrances of the main theme just before the first movement's recapitulation.

The rich, loamy sound of violist James Dunham, formerly of the Cleveland Quartet, improved the balance between piano and strings in Mendelssohn's Third Piano Quartet, Op. 3. While not a masterpiece like the String Octet, composed a few months later, this work shows Mendelssohn absorbing the dramatic possibilities of Beethoven's heroic style. Endless figuration purled from Elvekjær's hands, which faltered only momentarily in the final movement. The gossamer-winged Scherzo, an early example of what Todd called the "mercurial whimsy" now indelibly associated with Mendelssohn, was the high point.

-- Charles T. Downey

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