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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 7:09 am | Fair 42º


Gerald Carpenter: Chamber Music by Beethoven and Brahms Played ‘on the Mountain’

Ojai's premier chamber music provider, Chamber on the Mountain, plays its last concert of 2018 at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, in Logan House, adjacent to the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts; 8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Road.

The performers will be the Amerigo Trio (Glenn Dicterow, violin; Karen Dreyfus, viola; Inbal Segev, cello), with Bernadene Blaha, pianist, playing Ludwig Beethoven's "String Trio No.1 in Eb-Major, Opus 3” (1797) and Johannes Brahms' "Piano Quartet No. 1 in g-minor, Opus 25” (1861).

This is a youthful program. Beethoven was 27 when this Trio was published and wrote it at least five years before. Brahms was 28 when the Piano Quartet was first performed — with Clara Schumann at the piano — and still brimming over with song-like melodies.

The Beethoven Trio is, in spirit, a "divertimento," although — unlike the divertimenti of Mozart — not explicitly designated as such. At any rate, a divertimento is not a fixed form but a signifier that the work is a light-hearted entertainment, based either on a suite of dances or music for the theater.

We are so conditioned to see Beethoven as the thunderous musical revolutionary of the orchestral works, or the cosmic pilgrim of the Late Quartets, that we often overlook, or fail to take seriously, the sparkling and tuneful effusions of his youth.

As scholars would have us start reading Scott Fitzgerald with The Great Gatsby — which took 10 years to sell out its first printing of 2,500 copies — rather than the extravagantly romantic This Side of Paradise, which became a best-seller and made its author rich and famous, so the received musicological wisdom would have us skip these early works like this Trio or the once ubiquitous "Septet" — or the three gorgeous piano quartets he wrote when he was 16 — because they don't represent his "mature" genius.

And, indeed, this Trio would not make a very satisfactory subject for a doctoral dissertation, for all that it is adorable and easy to listen to.

Brahms, too, wrote lovely chamber music when he was young, before he started taking seriously his mission as Beethoven's heir (actually, Schumann's heir would be more like it).

This Piano Quartet has it both ways. Its lovely melodies and gypsy rhythms, while not so innocently happy as those of young Beethoven, are warm and generous in their effect, yet the piece is also a work of great intellectual distinction.

Schoenberg, who was a great admirer of Brahms, insisted that this Quartet represented Brahms' first attempt to compose a symphony, and, at the suggestion of Otto Klemperer, prepared a fully orchestrated version to prove his point — a remarkable work, very much worth hearing, which is still occasionally performed, though it is best appreciated as a chamber work.

Admission to this concert is $25; advance reservations may be purchased on line at www.ChamberOnTheMountain.com.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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