Los Angeles Music Review: VIENNA PIANO TRIO (The Da Camera Society at the Guasti Villa)

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by Tony Frankel on November 15, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Once while in Salzburg, I happened upon a chamber concert in a private home (well, they called it a home, I called it a tiny palace). Our host explained that piano trios—compositions for two stringed instruments and a piano—were designed for intimate spaces such as the luxuriant parlor we sat in (well, they called it a parlor, I called it a showroom). Even with a discounted admission, the ticket was a bit beyond my backpacking means, but I felt privileged to be there, and my The historic mansion at the the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardensappreciation of music, architecture and civility was heightened; the memory became forever etched on my soul. Yet replicating that moment, especially here in the land of concrete and quakes, has been challenging.

Last Sunday, 15 years later, I finally had a similar experience, except I didn’t have to make the trek to Europe. It was in the historic Adams District not far from downtown L.A. inside the ornate mansion that Busby Berkeley once called home. There, the Da Camera Society presented the world-class Vienna Piano Trio (VPT) for a one-time concert.

The Society, founded in 1973, was created to offer chamber music in the types of salons for which they were intended. Their program, Chamber Music in Historic Sites, offers glorious music in various locations, some of which are normally off-limits to the public (the Tallis Scholars performing in the Bradbury Building last April was an experience for the ages). The 40th season inaugural Interior detail of the Guasti Villa ballroom at the the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardensconcert of VPT at Guasti Villa (which included lovely edibles and reception with the artists) may have been a singular event, but the Society is offering 26 different concerts to choose from this season.

It began with a smooth rendering of Mozart’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E major (1788), a revolutionary work in that many trios of the period were more or less solo pieces for the piano with embellishment by the violin and cello; it was a rarity at that time for the strings to be on equal footing with a piano. The work may have been written for amateur performers, but the Vienna Piano Trio made the work sound deceptively simple to play—devilishly so.

Vienna Piano TrioSchubert’s Trio No. 1 in B-flat major (1828) really showed off VPT’s subtlety, expressiveness, expertise and probing interpretation. Longer than most trios at around 40 minutes, this good-natured work known for giving equal status to the cello (Schubert’s father was a cellist) gives all three players a chance to shine with its convivial and expressive melodies.

Formed in Vienna in 1988, VPT is comprised of original pianist Stefan Mendl, cellist Matthias Gredler, a member since 2001, and violinist Bogdan Božović, who joined in 2012. Watching the trio perform live, these dates become noteworthy as the players almost took on a family dynamic: Mendl was like a father—understanding, guiding, firm, loving—always ready to let his boys do the leading; Gredler, with his sweet and melancholic Interior of the ballroom at the the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardenstimbre on the cello, was like the older son who had experienced more of life’s heartbreaks; and Božović was like the younger son—scruffy and handsome, extremely emotional, and obedient but forthright. The youthful vivacity, profundity, and mature elegance was a winning combination.

Yet there were times I had to close my eyes to hear the music, so distracting were the features of the ballroom in this Italian Renaissance Beaux-Arts mansion (now the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens, headquarters for the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness): inlaid Carrara marble floor, ceiling painting, paneling with pilasters and garlands, detailed cast-iron balustrade spiraling up the stairs, and French doors through which we espied a dusky sky. Fortunately, I had already scanned enough details to concentrate on an encore of the second movement from Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 70 No. 2 in E-flat Major. The only regret was re-entering L.A.’s miasma of mini-malls.

Upcoming Da Camera events this year: the piano trio, Latitude 41, at the Doheny Mansion; Edwin Huizinga (violin) & Peter Longworth (piano) at Cicada at the Oviatt; soprano Ellen Hargis & Friends at the Doheny Mansion; Christopher Matthews (flute) & Mak Grgić (guitar) at the Naiditch House (with its spectacular views); and the Bach Collegium San Diego with Dark Horse Consort & TENET at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral.

The Da Camera Society of Mount St, Mary's College - POSTER

photos courtesy of Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens

Vienna Piano Trio at the Guasti Villa
played on November 10. 2013
presented by the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary’s College
for info and tickets to upcoming events, call 213.477.2929
or visit http://www.DaCamera.org

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