THE PIANO TRIO is a relic of many centuries B. E. (before electronics), an antique that survives too often in fossilized form.
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Pianist Thomas Schmidt and cellist Clay Ruede wore tails, violinist Suzanne Ornstein was dressed in an old-fashioned white gown. And they sat like a daguerrotype on the stage of the old church to play music older than any of my surviving relatives.
Such ancient tunes survive for two contrasting reasons: they offer no threat to the cautious ear, or they contain mysteries still to be revealed.
The Arden Trio is in it to seek out those mysteries. That explains the terrific sound they get out of the music.
They used the old warm-up-the-crowd-with-Haydn dodge, but lit into the piece so much brio it sounded brand-new. Furthermore: they’re not too awed by Papa Haydn’s rep to pussyfoot in their interpretation. The Trio in D Major, number 16 in the 15th catalogue of Hoboken (nothing like a fanatical job of cataloguing to keep the classical professors happily occupied) is short and impish. In the hands of the Arden Trio, an ensemble with a sense of humor, it was filled with smiles.
The players are young – each probably in the early 30s – but they’ve worked together for over a decade. Youthfulness and craft are a potent combination.
A hearty serving of Dvořák followed, with the Trio in f minor, Op. 65. There is a darkling strain in this work, appropriate to the somber key it’s written in, and the Trio performed it with maturity tempered by appropriate rambunctiousness.
For instance, in the second movement, a brisk Allegretto in 6/8 time, the players gave the themes just the right amount of first- syllable emphasis to make it sing in its native language (characterized by that same emphasis).
And, like good singers, the players take that extra moment between movements to #get into character," to prepare for the emotions to follow.
The final work, Ravel’s Trio in a minor, started with beautifully quiescent octaves in the strings and maintained an intensity that was red-hot without ever seeming overdone.
The four movements play as much with the combination of sounds from the instruments as the sounds themselves, requiring performers with technical agility and the wisdom to play it not for the sake of technique itself.
Some of the high-position shifts on the strings weren’t hit dead-center; similarly, pianist Schmidt smacked a couple of clunkers. But it didn’t matter a bit: the mistakes were the result of risk-taking, and that’s a highly-commendable thing to do. The more risks a group is inclined to take, the fewer mistakes will be made in the future.
Ravel nudged the piano trio form into the 20th century, and the Arden Trio had no problem following him there. Think what a trio of this caliber could do with music that is indigenous to our time and nationality!
– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 30 April 1987