Effervescent Beethoven piano trios sparkled on a dark and stormy evening in Princeton

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.

Princeton University Concerts presented a stellar trio of performers in a Beethoven Program on February 6. Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikov undertook the “Kakadu” Variations, Op. 121a in G Major, the Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 70, No.2, and the Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, the “Archduke.”

At 7:00PM, a Warm Up discussion was held before the 8:00PM recital featuring Professors Scott Burnham (Emeritus, Music) and Elaine Pagels (Religion) (Happy Birthday, EP, February 13!). They spoke about the music of Beethoven. Professor Burnham spoke at length, dominating the conversation, occasionally allowing Professor Pagels to deliver delightfully self-contained stories about her life amidst Beethoven’s influences. This MacArthur fellow spoke engagingly about practicing piano while a bust of Beethoven glowered over her when she was a child, as well as Beethoven’s music and its effects upon her as an adult. Professor Burnham spoke at length about his fascination with a photo of Beethoven’s death mask featured on an album cover. And so it went. Women of a certain age appeared to swoon over Scott Burnham’s repartee, and by his Lisztian locks. Soon enough, the chat was over.

Scott Burnham delivered the often perfunctory caution to turn off devices during performance. He added that Beethoven was in the Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. He persuaded Beethoven that we loved him because we turned off our cell phones and unwrapped our candy in his honor. We were celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year, after all.

Every peyote dream soon vanished. The stellar trio walked onto the stage. The “Kakadu” variations were clearly delivered and passionately realized. The Trio in E-flat Major was sparkling and gay. One might have been mesmerized by Mr. Melnikov’s pianism, as it shone, blazed, soothed, and excited by startling turns. Unalloyed beauty poured from his piano. His face may resemble in a certain light Gautama Buddha, as it casts a serene aura which calms as it caresses. The “Archduke” Trio followed after intermission. So expertly and deftly played, it bedazzled the audience into acquiescent submission. The notes became tattooed into our flesh. All the while, Mr. Melnikov’s body barely moved. It appeared that only his wrists flew about while leaving his body relaxed and limber. Ms. Faust and Mr. Queyras appeared to seduce each other with their playing. And in so doing, seduced us all under their spell.

As the audience reeled to the frankincense of immortality perceivable throughout the hall, the famed trio came to a delightful and splendid close. Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikovtook a few bows, left, then returned to more discreet bows, then quietly left in earnest.

Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Alexander Melnikov in recital is only one of many offerings by Princeton University Concerts. Future presentations include The Calidore String Quartet, on February 20, The Dover String Quartet on April 16, and many others. For information, phone 609-258-2800, or visit www.princetonuniversityconcerts.org.

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