Trio Treats at Morningside

The Morningside College Piano Recital Series:
Yi-Yang Chen, Piano
Parker Gaims, Clarinet
Stephanie March, Cello
Eppley Auditorium, Morningside College, Sioux City
January 18, 2020

For about ninety minutes in Eppley Auditorium on Saturday night, I almost—almost—forgot it was winter.  Yi-Yang Chen (Piano), Parker Gaims (Clarinet) and Stephanie March (Cello) led the audience through a lively program that seemed downright spring-like at times.  And not a moment too soon. 

Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat major, also known as Gassenhauer, started the program and stood in stark contrast to the (regretfully) little Beethoven I know.  It was youthful but not pouty or too full of itself.  It may not have been as monumental as some of the Beethoven we now recognize from popular culture, but this early piece, written in 1797, shows more life, more personality, and more spring in its step than the first piano concerto from around the same time (1795).  In fact, I didn’t know until just now that the word Gassenhauer, in German, means “popular song.”* It’s no surprise to me that this work picked up that title.  It was the perfect way for this trio to start off a cold, wintry night. And it was a fine introduction, for someone like me, who has never seen or heard a piano-clarinet-cello ensemble before.

Before intermission, the group performed Nino Rota’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano.  The music itself is far more creative than the title suggests.  The first movement left me with a feeling of play and energy, as though two rascally characters were chasing each other or a dozen frantic factory machines were going haywire in a silent movie flick.  This surprises me less now that I know that in addition to composing chamber works, Rota wrote for the screen as well.  The second movement affected a sad, almost mournful feel, but it wasn’t to last; the third returned with an homage to the jittery energy of the first movement and finished with a flourish. 

Chen, Gains, and March closed the concert with a trio by Brahms, Op. 114.  This, in contrast to the early Beethoven (Op. 11), is a mature piece, and was decidedly the least springlike of the three.  Beethoven’s trio was his eleventh work; after Brahms’s trio, he would live to write only eight more.  With this maturity comes skill and experience, and these were on display in the composition as they had been on display in the performers all evening.  For what seemed like the first time all night, Ms. March’s cello spent time in its lower registers.  I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed that sound until I heard much more of it.  While slower and more contemplative than the night’s predecessors, the Brahms trio finished with the urgency you might expect out of a man who sensed the end was near. 

Despite the snow and the cold, I’d known all weekend I was making room for this concert, and I’m glad I did.  Misters Chen and Gaims will be heading back to Tennesee and Washington, DC, respectively, but you can expect to see and hear more from Ms. March in the future; she’s principal cellist for the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra.  This trio may not be performing at Morningside again this year, but there are still three more programs in the Morningside Piano Recital Series.  If last night was any indication, you’ll need to save the dates. 

* Harvard Dictionary of Music

Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father who has been struggling with the same not-too-terribly-difficult piano piece for six weeks (much to the chagrin of his wife and piano teacher). He enjoys having feeling in his hands and not shoveling snow. He is currently reading Mark Anderson’s Shakespeare by Another Name, but is not yet convinced that Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford is, in fact, the “real” Shake-speare.