Review: February 28, 1998

Triple Helix Shines in Discussion-Recital

Talented Triple Helix provides a night of sophisticated music conversation

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
February 28,1998

The piano trio Triple Helix has lengthened the list of the city’s first-class resident ensembles. In a way this comes as no surprise, since the individual members — violinist Bayla Keyes, cellist Rhonda Rider, and pianist Lois Shapiro — have long stood among our most cherishable musicians. But their success as a trio was by no means inevitable; every group of three first-class musicians can create a first-class trio. It’s a question of intelligence, instinct, chops, ear, experience, and willingness; these three women, each a very strong and distinctive personality, have them all and keep them dancing.

Triple Helix performs in two formats. Some of their programs are discussion concerts; last night marked Triple Helix’s fifth appearance at the Brookline Music School, where their topic was “The Emerging Self in the 19th Century Piano Trio: The Diverging Musical Personae of Schumann, Dvorak and Brahms.” It was an event satisfying in itself; it also whetted the appetite for the trio’s next formal concert in the Tsai Performance Center Wednesday night.

In the discussion concerts, Shapiro acts as anchorwoman, laying out the intellectual background of the music — in 45 minutes she quoted Novalis, Tieck, William Cowper, and Shelley, and why not? Schumann once remarked that he had learned more from the novelist of sentiment, Jean Paul (the pen name of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter), than from his counterpoint teachers.

Keyes and Rider bounce their ideas off the trampoline of Shapiro’s flexible intelligence. After illustrating a musical passage, Keyes exclaimed, “Now we know what it felt like to Schumann — isn’t it amazing how music can put you inside the skin of somebody else? This piece — the D-Minor Trio, Op. 63 — can drive you crazy.” Rider speaks less often than the others, but always to the point. The moment of epiphany in the first movement of the Schumann Trio comes in the cello, playing in an unusual position on the bridge of the instrument. “There’s no substance to the tone,” Rider explained. “Color is even more important than pitch.”

The players found less to talk about in Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio, but Shapiro observed how tears and laughter are “kissin’ cousins” in this music, and Keyes spoke of how she felt this music was like the thoughts of a peasant who walks the same landscape every day, taking the same steps, yet noting every minute change in what he sees — especially as he goes by the Gypsy camp.

Time ran short, so Brahms (C Major, Op. 87) got rather short shrift. No one would have wanted to miss the delicious performance of the Dvorak, but it might have been better to concentrate on Schumann and Brahms, and play each of their trios complete rather than a movement apiece. There was certainly plenty more to talk about — the difference in color and even in appropriate tone production, for example, not to mention how much in Brahms is a direct response to Schumann.

Shapiro, an intensely disciplined creature, should school herself against using the word “interesting” at all, and instead compel our response by the pertinence of her observations. Still, the discussion was healthily instructive rather than “educational”; instead of telling us what we ought to know, Triple Helix generously shared some of the things they feel and think about.

After a short break, Triple Helix played straight through the music they had discussed so illuminatingly; the performances were sophisticated in musical detail, wholeheartedly interactive on every level, uninhibited in emotion, and, in the Dvorak, touched by a special grace.