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Review: Morgenstern Trio

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Ensemble Music Series
Indiana History Center; Nov. 17

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) is known principally for his tone poem "The Moldau," from his My Fatherland cycle (referring then to Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) - and, to a lesser extent, his String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor ("From My Life"). His The Bartered Bride also figures prominently in the opera repertoire. But I don't recall ever witnessing a live performance of his Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15 (1855). That was corrected on Wednesday, when the Morgenstern Trio of German players - violinist Stefan Hemple, cellist Emanuel Wehse and pianist Catherine Klipfel - gave us their best contribution in the second of Ensemble Music's five-concert series. They've only been at it for some five years, already getting notices praising their ensemble maturity.

Op. 15 ended a program which included Debussy's early Trio in G and Mozart's late Trio No. 6 in G, K. 564. And it was with the Smetana that all three players gelled into a well-integrated ensemble, the strings and keyboard giving us a unified picture of a strongly impassioned Romantic chamber piece. Klipfel provided the galvanizing factor in her beautifully sculpted keyboard work, but Hempel and Wehse showed equally assertive control when their parts called for it.

Though Klipfel maintained her high pianistic level in all three pieces, the string players seemed slightly off their stride in the Debussy and Mozart, in which rough tones, slightly missed pitches and a lack of balance invaded their playing. I thought Klipfel was the "star" - till I experienced the Smetana. That is when I realized the group deserves its general accolades; they just had a bad start.

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