You might think that Opus 1, No. 1 signifies a juvenile work, or something close to it. It denotes, after all, the introduction of a young composer to the musical public, with many future works implied.
But in Beethoven’s case, you can forget the juvenile. Always canny in musical matters, he composed large numbers of pieces before finally, at age 24, coming up with one (or actually, a set of three) that he felt was worthy of publication.
Opus 1, No. 1 was the first work on Saturday afternoon’s concert of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth in the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum. The piece was the Piano Trio in E-flat Major, the first in a group of three works in the form that he published together as a set and dedicated to his teacher, Haydn.
The audience at the first performance in the 1790s must have been amazed. Here was a composition by a young man who was obviously bold, highly self-confident, full of musical ideas and fully professional. No apprenticeship was needed.
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It was arguably the finest Opus 1 in music history.
The Chamber Music Society came up with a group of three musicians who brought the work brilliantly to life. They were pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Tim Fain and cellist Andrés Díaz.
McDermott was amazing. Her playing was often fleet (she may have set a local record for fast-notes-per-minute) but always well-articulated and well-balanced, both between left and right hands and with her colleagues. She is an exceptionally accomplished chamber-music player.
Fain and Díaz were exceptional as well. It is a tribute to their teamwork — and to McDermott’s spirit of cooperation — that Beethoven’s work seemed a well-rounded masterpiece and not a sort of piano-concerto-in-miniature.
Beethoven’s trio was a joy that encompassed humor in its high spirits.
Fortunately, the rest of the afternoon’s program was strong enough that it didn’t pale in comparison to Beethoven’s composition. It included Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1, also in D minor.
Both works combined high spirits with a strong lyrical impulse.