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Review: Georgian Chamber Players elegantly improvise Dvorak, Mendelssohn program

Georgian Chamber Players 2012 (resized)
The Georgian Chamber Players include members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The Georgian Chamber Players presented the first concert of their 2012-13 season on Sunday in the intimate Kellett Chapel of Peachtree Presbyterian Church on Roswell Road in Buckhead.

Titled “Middle-European Magic,” the concert was intended to showcase the Piano Trio No. 4 of Antonin Dvorak, along with a pair of works for the unusual trio combination of two violins and viola: Dvorak’s Terzetto in C Major, Op. 74, and the Serenade, Op. 12, by Zoltan Kodaly. But circumstances dictated a last-minute change in plans — violist Reid Harris had to bow out of the concert due to family issues that obliged him to be elsewhere.

Word was that, when a substitute violist could not quickly be found, the Terzetto and Serenade were eliminated. Instead, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor became the companion to the Dvorak piano trio, to be played by the same three musicians: violinist David Coucheron, cellist Christopher Rex and pianist Julie Coucheron. Given that the Mendelssohn is one of the cornerstones of piano trio repertoire, this was a most efficient solution in terms of necessary rehearsal time imposed by the change of plans.

One of only two piano trios that Mendelssohn composed, Piano Trio No. 1 is the more popular of the pair. Mendelssohn was a reasonably mature 30 years old when he wrote it in 1839. In the process of composing, he took the suggestion of fellow composer Ferdinand Hiller to revise the piano part to make it more romantic in the manner of Robert Schumann. Its four-movement structure is that of the standard sonata form that crowned Germanic classical-romantic musical lineage.

By contrast, Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 4, known as the “Dumky” trio, deviates significantly from that sonata form embraced by Mendelssohn and by Dvorak himself in his previous three piano trios. Its six movements are essentially fantasias that intertwine six “dumka,” a kind of folk dance well known across Central Europe, with slow, melancholy melodies. It was completed in early 1891, by which time Dvorak was well established as a senior exponent of Czech cultural identity, so it simultaneously represents the composer at his folksiest and most original.

Aside from the fact that both works are mainline repertoire, one could expect a naturally superb sense of ensemble from these players, from the simple fact that David Coucheron and Rex work right across from each other almost daily in Atlanta Symphony Orchestra rehearsals and performances as concertmaster and principal cellist respectively. And also that David and Julie Coucheron are brother and sister.

The interactive chemistry showed forth, whether in passages of passionate lyricism or feisty exuberance. The music of both composers gave the players plenty of opportunity in which to engage and express a range of emotion to the audience.

It was a solidly satisfying concert. But as much of a linchpin piece as Mendelssohn’s piano trio may be, the only downside of the day was not getting to hear the less heard works by Dvorak and Kodaly that were jettisoned. Hopefully they can be rescheduled by the Georgian Chamber Players in the not-too-distant future. I, for one, would look forward to that.

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