Three players from the American Chamber Orchestra -- Ignacio Alcover, cello, Bruce Myers, violin, and Katherine Brake, piano -- offered a selection of romantic period works Friday night at the French Embassy.
Brake opened the concert with Liszt's Transcendental Etude No.9, "Ricordanza." Her approach to the piano was exceedingly cautious, perhaps because it was not really a concert-quality instrument. Stylistically, she understood this piece very well, but didn't display the necessary forcefulness during the crescendos. And there was rather too much Debussyan tinkling in the upper register. The relative acoustical deadness of the auditorium didn't help either.
Joined by Alcover and Myers, the musicians proceeded to Faure's Trio in D Minor, Op. 120. The trio took a very middle-of-the-road attitude, tempos at allegro moderato and dynamics at mezzo forte, giving a largely undifferentiated performance. Moreover, in the absence of enduring themes or dramatic construction, this composition is pleasant enough to the ear, but fails to hold the listener's interest. The slow movement in this trio, Andantino, was enjoyable, mainly because of the astute keyboard work of Brake, who gave the part the profound sentimentality of a much-loved alma mater.
The moving Trio No. 1 in B-flat by Schubert finished the program. With the exception of the Andante un Poco Mosso, the changes in its character between the pieces numerous movements went largely unrealized. The first movement was lethargic and the runs in the string parts were too premeditated, without enough zing. Cellist Alcover handled the opening melody of the Andante broadly and with the right poetic touch. That movement finished nicely. After a credible Scherzo section, the rest of the piece seemed an interminable business. Brake's piano added some bursts of color here and there. The Allegro Vivace was hardly "vivace," and the recurring five-note theme, though aptly played by violinist Myers, failed to have the rallying effects it's designed for. As this is one of ACO's "Champagne Chamber Concerts," some more effervescence is decidedly in order.