The Peabody Trio presented a capsule history of the piano trio genre from "Papa" Haydn to Bright Sheng at a family-oriented Terrace Theater matinee concert Saturday. The group, which has been in residence at the Peabody Conservatory of Music since 1987, discussed the salient features of the works played, keeping the technical talk to a minimum so that kids and adults alike were better-prepared listeners, presumably able at least to appreciate what goes into a composition and how it is communicated.
Preliminary explanations helped especially in Sheng's Four Movements for Piano Trio, a 1990 fusion of the composer's "mother tongue" and "father tongue," according to pianist Seth Knopp -- in other words, Oriental sounds deployed within Western forms. Violinist Violaine Melancon approximated the human voice singing a Sichuan folk melody, Knopp applied the "Sheng tap" (striking the piano strings with the fingertips), and cellist Bonnie Thron incorporated a variety of slides and harmonics as part of the spicy mix. On the strength of its Washington premiere, this taut, well-constructed piece should enjoy many repeat performances.
Throughout the afternoon, the Peabody Trio's numerous illustrations revealed a thoughtful, passionate and joyous approach to musicmaking. Constant eye contact allowed the performers to keep their signals straight, and the expressions registered in their faces represented various stages of transport -- even in a rather non-rapturous piece such as the Haydn Trio in A, Hob. 15:XV9. The trio saved the best for last, however, with an intense reading of Dvorak's Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 21, in which the indomitable Czech spirit shone proudly.