Tom Rose returned to Old St. Mary’s Cathedral to give another Noontime Concerts™ recital, this time with pianist Miles Graber and cellist Ruth Lane, rather than the viola and piano of his Trio Brillante ensemble. They began with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 11 trio in B-flat major, written for the clarinet but sometimes performed with a violin taking the upper voice. This is a relatively early piece, composed in 1798, in which Beethoven was not afraid to show off either his inventiveness or his sense of humor. The latter is particularly evident in the final movement, a set of variations on the aria “Pria ch’io l’impegno,” from the opera L’Amor marinaro by Joseph Weigl, a comedy about a romantic corsair. Beethoven was clever enough to foreshadow this theme in the first movement of his trio, but he barely hints at the swaggering quality it assumes in both statement and variations. Indeed, by the time the musicians charge into the final variation, one might think that the music had more to do with Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirate King than with any eighteenth-century conception of adventurous seafarers. Rose and his colleagues had no trouble getting into the spirit of these variations or any of the eccentricities of modulation in the opening movement.
If there was a barely concealed sense of the ridiculous in the Beethoven trio, the players then moved to Johannes Brahms’ Opus 114 trio in A minor. This is far more introspectively poignant music, frequently performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music but often with a violist taking the clarinet part. As I have previously (and frequently) observed, this was the first of the four compositions written under the inspiration of clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld that brought Brahms out of a self-imposed retirement. Rose and his colleagues were as effective in capturing the “twilight” characteristics of this late work as they had been with the free-spirited early Beethoven composition.
This contrast of opposing moods was distilled in the final work on the program, the opening and closing movements from the “Fantasy Trio” by the American composer Robert Muczynski, his Opus 26 composed in 1969. The Introduction movement takes the introspective qualities of the Brahms trio and gives them a characteristic twist of American lyricism, while the Finale goes out in an energetic burst of energy. The performance of these two movements in juxtaposition gave the impression of a “programmed encore” to sum up the journey taken by the two major works that had been performed.