Aspen String Trio – November 17, 2018

The Aspen String Trio graced the RCA on Saturday with a performance befitting the high quality usually brought to us by Chamber Music Kelowna. It is the case that ensembles performing here might recently have played, say, NYC or Toronto. Mobility is the key: Three or four ladies and/or gentlemen with violins and such are easily transportable. Thus, the quality is almost always at the highest level or thereabouts. The Aspen String Trio was thereabouts.

The first half was works of two composers, Hans Krása and Gideon Klein, who met their ends in Nazi camps, at respectively 44 and 25 years of age.  Indeed, Krása’s Passacaglia and Fugue for String Trio (1944), his Tanac (1943-44) and Klein’s String Trio (1944), were all written while they were in the camps.

But therein is the dilemma. Do we listen to these pieces strictly on their musical merits?  Or do we take into account the dire circumstances of their creation? And how exactly do you do the latter?

Alas, I fear we would not be listening to the music of Krása and Klein had they been spared the Holocaust. The music was quite mid-20th century competent, and certainly well played, but it just didn’t seem to be developing once started. I think I heard traces of Les Six, Bartók, even shades Shostakovich-like – but alas that was not enough. Where was the quality uniquely Krása or Klein? But it is difficult: how do you find fault with a 25-year old writing in a concentration camp?

The second half was a gem of the repertoire: Mozart’s Divertimento, K. 563. This trio is a conversation between three equal voices. This is lovely for viola admirers. Violas often get the necessary but yeoman work of filling in harmonies in so much of the repertoire, but Mozart was the best of writers for the viola – he did after all play the thing himself. During the playing, I wondered if the delightful variety throughout was at least partially due to Mozart’s plans to be part of the trio that first performed it. It sounded as if it might be as much a delight to play as to hear, and the Aspen Trio did not disappoint in this regard. I am duty bound to say something equivocal, so I should have wished for a wider range of tempi, dynamics and other contrasts.  But I quibble. Overall, I could not have wished to have been anywhere else in Kelowna that night – references to one of the lowest points in history followed by a straightforward example of one of the highest.

Goya Ys is a former anthropologist, lawyer, researcher in overseas development, and in a previous century a finalist at the Canadian Music Competition.

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