The acclaimed University of Maryland International Piano Festival and Competition opened last night with a peculiar emphasis on "unpianistic" chamber music literature.
The young Archduke Trio -- pianist Peter Schaaf, violinist Sergiu Schwartz and cellist Jeffrey Solow -- focused on some interesting if not brilliant selections that might have been more appropriate at a different sort of festival.
A Clementi-Casella trio, Schubert's Nocturne in E flat (Op. 148) and the Archduke's own arrangement of the Andante from Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto (which works because of the original movement's triple concerto style) do not represent those composers' best writing -- for keyboard or strings. The nocturne's piano part is particularly unimaginative and the work pales by the side of the late trios.
Intonation troubles and lax ensemble technique cropped up all evening. The trio also suffered some balance problems, especially in the first half.
Rachmaninoff's second "Trio Elegiaque" and Ravel's remarkable Trio fared better than the shorter works. Yet in spite of spots of good instrumental color and rich tone production, the crucial rhythmic urgency and vibrance of the Ravel were overlooked. Interpretation was at a high point in the encore, a Mendelssohn Scherzo. Here the group achieved a crisp and cohesive sound.