The Albers Trio was like a breath of spring last Sunday afternoon at the Lied Center in Lawrence. They took the stage wearing the colors of a spring bouquet. Magenta, lemon yellow and sky blue gowns were similar but different – just like the musicians. Their program was a smart mix of pieces that balanced light-hearted themes with creative compositional approaches from the past and present.
Beginning with the Beethoven String Trio in D Major, the Trio raced into action. (They play with an elegant physicality using their entire bodies to impart energy into a phrase.) This piece is a majestic miniature masterpiece and Beethoven myself called the Trios his best works to date after they were completed. But he abandoned the genre, focusing instead on the quartets that would soon revolutionize what we call classical music.
My favorite movement was the Andante quasi allegretto that blended a melancholy minor theme with a cello ostinato and interesting embellishments. It harkened back to the Baroque with stately suspensions that Beethoven tweaked and twisted, making the movement sound modern even by today’s standards. Violinist, Laura Albers, associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera, played the violin solo with all of the glorious drama of a Baroque aria.
Tathata by U.C. Davis composition professor Ross Bauer, was a refreshing surprise. The title translates from the ancient Pali language, to mean “suchness” and refers to “a way of experiencing reality without the barrier of language and concepts.” It wasn’t a tonal piece and had very understandable emotional references. Anxiety, sadness, tentative connections, and other feelings could be interpreted. As the 2st1 Century continues to progress, I have heard many other new compositions using atonal melodic material in similar ways. This makes it difficult to distinguish pieces from each other unless the composer chooses to rely on a particular device or hook. In the case of Tathata, the piece is scored traditionally for a trio and is accessible because of that structure. There were parts that pulled on me the same way Shostakovich does. This confused, searching and yearning motif in 20th and 21st century compositions may very well define the music of this era.
The Albers Trio played Tathata with ease and confidence. Utilizing bow bouncing, string pops, trills and other modern ornamentation, the players demonstrated their virtuosity. At one point the violinist seemed to flip her high note off of the tip of her bow and it landed smoothly in the viola. The sisters have a knack for making their instruments sound so alike in their overlapping registers that it is sometimes difficult to determine which instrument is playing. This was a particularly true of the viola and the cello. When they all played in a slow, spine tingling, unison the trio became some other sort of string instrument altogether.
The final piece on the program was Mozart’s entertaining and substantial Divertimento in E-flat Major. Passing the theme from violin to viola to cello with equanimity, Mozart wrote a piece that challenged and delighted each member of the trio. Each theme in this piece stands alone as a lovely little song and was played with a range of delicacy and thoughtful gravitas.
It was clear that the Albers Trio are friends as well as siblings. Sisters, Laura (violin) Rebecca (viola) and Julie (cello) seem to have that uncanny sibling ability to know what the others are thinking, feeling and how they will react. For an ensemble, like a trio, that skill is magical. Living in San Francisco, Ann Arbor and New York City, they aren’t geographically close but when they were onstage, there seemed to be a loving bond of sisterhood that permeated their playing. All three of these talented young women are at the top of their game and hearing them together, with their amazing intuition, was an exquisite pleasure.