The Music at Kohl Mansion series is extending its reach and going international. The Morgenstern Piano Trio came from Germany to grace the stately home in Burlingame with its quiet dignity last Sunday.

The center of the program was Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio of 1914. Despite the extreme immediacy of the performing space in Kohl’s Great Hall, the performers conveyed a distant and mysterious air to this music. Controlled and precise playing by violinist Stefan Hempel and cellist Emanuel Wehse and smooth, evenly-spread articulation from pianist Catherine Klipfel emphasized the harmonic richness of the music. It was loud enough at times, especially at the ending facing the outbreak of World War I, but this was a rendition dominated by quiet.

It also included an unprecedented special feature. Each season in recent years, Kohl has featured a guest visual artist whose work, matched with the musical programs, is displayed in the corridors outside the hall. This season’s artist is Peggy Gyulai, a painter with an impressionistic palette, a good companion for Ravel’s impressionist music.

So Gyulai, who had prepped for the experience, embarked on a painting while stationed next to the stage during the performance of the Ravel as the audience watched. This was less distracting and more uplifting than the videos sometimes shown at symphony concerts. The nearly half hour of music didn’t allow Gyulai to get very far in the task, but she dabbed oils on her canvas with vigor or contemplation matching the energy of the music. After the performance, the musicians peered around the side of the piano out of curiosity to see what Gyulai had done. She might continue this painting during subsequent concerts.

A Trio on Irish Folk Tunes made a good accompaniment to the Ravel. This was written by Frank Martin, a 20th century Swiss composer known for mastery of his craft. The work is not the popular medley the title might lead one to expect. Martin’s goal is to develop these themes in his typical style, which is more a mutation and elaboration rather than the chopping up and regrouping of traditional Germanic developments. Even in the closing Gigue, the only movement that begins in a popular-music style — with the melody in the violin as the piano holds a bagpipe-like drone and the cello plucks bass notes like the thumping of a bodhran — the mutation takes over. It’s a delightful piece, but the craft, not the melodies, is what makes it notable.

The closing piece on the program was Franz Schubert’s vast and expansive Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 99. Here the musicianship was even finer. Violin and cello playing together emitted a distinctive gleaming tone that gave this work great character. Although it’s a more extroverted work than the Ravel, hushed playing was still the most arresting and distinctive part. Klipfel’s piano produced an even-toned sparkling cascade of notes of a kind perfectly suited for conveying Schubert’s piano writing, but rarely heard in performances outside of the Trout Quintet.

The Andante slow movement of this trio was one of those rare magical moments that seem to suspend time and lift the listener’s spirit out of the body. It could have gone on twice as long as it did and still could have been longer. The only drawback to this perfection is that the succeeding scherzo and finale felt anticlimactic, if only by comparison, a problem that occasionally shows up in performances of other Schubert masterpieces (Schubert’s realization of this dilemma is possibly why the Unfinished Symphony remained unfinished).

The next concert at Kohl Mansion is a gala holiday recital, with pianist Joyce Yang performing an assortment of Romantic and early modern pieces by Grieg, Debussy and others, on Sunday, Dec. 17. That will be succeeded by a regular series concert by the Parker String Quartet, playing Mendelssohn, Stravinsky and Sibelius on Sunday, Jan. 21.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for visiting the Daily Journal.

Please purchase an Enhanced Subscription to continue reading. To continue, please log in, or sign up for a new account.

We offer one free story view per month. If you register for an account, you will get two additional story views. After those three total views, we ask that you support us with a subscription.

A subscription to our digital content is so much more than just access to our valuable content. It means you’re helping to support a local community institution that has, from its very start, supported the betterment of our society. Thank you very much!