Wister and More! presents the Casimir Trio

Gauging every nuance

The Albert and Hete Barthelemes Auditorium at the German Society of Pennsylvania is a small and acoustically live room. The Casimir Trio, who play there regularly, know just how to make the most of its acoustics to convey their musical ideas.

The Casimir Trio's Nancy Bean and Marcantonio Barone play at the German Society. (Photo by Claus Petersen)

A perfect balance

The first piece, a trio by Beethoven, "Variations on Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu Opus 121a," begins with a tantalizingly slow and serious introduction of a light and silly tune. The dynamics at this performance were so well balanced in each call and response that it set up the listener to be attentive to similar themes in the mad flurry of notes to come. In the piece’s theme and variations, Casimir balanced the voices with delicately articulated phrasings, which always matched, especially where the piano was dynamically softer than the strings, as in Variation 9.

Even with the lid of a seven-foot Bösendorfer all the way up, Mr. Barone projected clear notes so softly played every detail of the string voices could still be heard, even pizzicato, and the trio made the most of sforzandi and dynamic markings with gentle but persistent verve.

For the Brahms Sonata No 2 in A major, Opus 100, the violin could have been a tad stronger in volume, although Nancy Bean’s performance remained vibrant and energetic.  So many passages in the allegro amabile play in the violin’s low register, and the room was so small that the instrument fought to be audible above a grand piano. Bean’s melody rang out more clearly in the andante tranquillo and its contrasting vivace passages. Bean and Barone stayed glued together throughout the polyrhythms and hemiolas Brahms scatters throughout his final allegretto grazioso.

No need for more

The trio’s performance of Schubert’s Piano trio in E Flat Major, D. 929 seemed an amazing feat. Cello, violin, and piano all possess distinct and often differing themes and their players brought these out in the tiniest details. The beginning of the second movement (andante con moto) balanced perfectly between cello and piano, especially where Smith’s double stops accompany Barone’s soft octaves playing the melody on piano.

The scherzo came off so lightly and dancelike that it felt like a Ländler contrasting with the trio. The performers played the allegro moderato, a technical feat by any standards, with grace and panache, building long lines and phrases slowly to fortissimo. All the romantic features, the motifs foreshadowing Dvořák, the sforzandi, the sudden dips from fortissimo to pianissimo, met with flawless execution. Barone’s piano technique added an extra shiver as he slid up and down impossibly fast scale passages as easily as if he were dusting the keyboard. And still, you heard every individual note.

From such a height of musical tension, the encore, Fritz Kreisler’s Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven, created the easy atmosphere of a Viennese café -- but after all so much thunder, lightning, and singing melodies, it was a letdown. With such a tour de force, who needs an encore?

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