Lis­ten Up James Keller re­views three Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val con­certs

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - James M. Keller

More than usual in­ter­est was at­tached to the con­cert of the Mon­trose Trio, which made its first ap­pear­ance at the Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium on July 23. The group — a stan­dard as­sem­blage of vi­o­lin, cello, and pi­ano — was es­tab­lished last year fol­low­ing the 2013 dis­band­ing of the Tokyo String Quar­tet. Vi­o­lin­ist Martin Beaver (a Cana­dian) and cel­list Clive Green­smith (a Bri­ton) worked to­gether as the non-Ja­panese con­tin­gent dur­ing the last 11 years of that group’s history, and they were ob­vi­ously re­luc­tant to put their col­lab­o­ra­tion in the past. Pi­anist Jon Kimura Parker had of­ten teamed up with the Tokyo Quar­tet, and it was log­i­cal for Beaver and Green­smith to join forces with him for a new en­ter­prise. Af­ter their long ten­ure with the Tokyo four­some, the string play­ers must have felt they had pretty thor­oughly di­gested the string-quar­tet reper­toire. It made good sense that they should an­gle off in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, draw­ing on the same cham­ber mu­sic skills that have served them so ca­pa­bly, but now putting them to use for mu­sic they could ap­proach with a de­gree of fresh­ness.

Their Santa Fe recital opened with Tu­rina’s Trio No. 2, a com­pact piece from 1933. This charm­ing con­fec­tion stands with one foot in the Parisian sa­lon and the other on a beach in Ibe­ria, sug­gest­ing in turn the so­phis­ti­cated lilt of Fauré and the cheer­ful

es­pañolismo of Sorolla’s seascapes. Ravel comes to mind in both the 5/8 Basque-coun­try me­ter of the slow move­ment and a woozy pas­sage that seems to check out the per­spec­tive from un­der­wa­ter for a brief while in the fi­nale. An em­phatic mis­placed at­tack in the first move­ment’s fi­nal ca­dence was a good ex­am­ple of the maxim “If you’re go­ing to make a mis­take, make it with au­thor­ity and don’t let on to the au­di­ence.”

From this lit­tle-played piece, the Mon­trose Trio moved to a much-vis­ited one, Beethoven’s Trio in E-flat ma­jor (Op. 1, No. 1), the trail­head of the com­poser’s pub­lished oeu­vre. Again, the group cre­ated ex­cite­ment through in­fu­sions of color, il­lu­mi­nat­ing phrases with lightly vary­ing tim­bres and bal­ances. The mu­si­cians’ over­all ap­proach showed ap­pro­pri­ate clas­si­cal re­straint, although they did in­dulge in a bit of com­i­cal bray­ing in the Trio of the Scherzo move­ment. One ap­pre­ci­ated the el­e­gant pi­anis­tic touch — the sense of care­fully cal­i­brated weight on the keys — that en­riched the over­all fla­vor with­out ever seem­ing fussy. The same could be said of the group’s per­for­mance of Brahms’ B-ma­jor Trio, one of cham­ber mu­sic’s most in­dis­pens­able works. These mu­si­cians knew the right ques­tions to ask, and then they worked out their an­swers with care. One might have pre­ferred a bit more of Hal­loween in the scur­ry­ing of the sec­ond move­ment, but the group’s more se­ri­ous ap­proach proved an en­tirely vi­able op­tion. The voic­ing of the pi­ano’s hymn­like ex­panse at the be­gin­ning of the third move­ment could not have been bet­tered, com­ing across as sin­cere but not smarmy, again dis­play­ing the vig­i­lant voic­ing that is go­ing to be one of this ensem­ble’s hall­marks. The mem­bers of the Mon­trose Trio hit the deck run­ning, bring­ing with them an im­pres­sive wealth of in­di­vid­ual tal­ent and cor­po­rate ex­pe­ri­ence in cham­ber mu­sic. They took their name in honor of Château Mon­trose, a distin­guished win­ery in Saint-Estèphe that holds the rank of Sec­ond Growth (Deux­ième Cru), which is mighty fine in­deed. Al­ready it seems that this new mu­si­cal ensem­ble has not over­reached in se­lect­ing its name. Its fu­ture looks promis­ing in­deed.

Pi­anist Parker pre­sented a solo recital two days ear­lier, in the fes­ti­val’s noon­time se­ries. Beethoven’s Moon­light Sonata and Schu­bert’s Wanderer Fan­tasy were aptly cou­pled, the pen­sive open­ing move­ment of the Beethoven seem­ing here to pre­fig­ure the quirky har­monic ideas that would resur­face in the Schu­bert. It was nonethe­less not Parker’s very finest hour. Most of his play­ing was solid and much of it was at­mo­spheric, but his fin­gers kept get­ting twisted up, en­forc­ing mo­men­tary breaks in the mo­men­tum of the Moon­light’s fe­ro­cious fi­nale and flus­ter­ing him enough to be no­tice­able at sev­eral points in the Wanderer. Af­ter re­group­ing, how­ever, he re­turned to de­liver a daz­zling ren­di­tion of the Wiz­ard of Oz Fan­tasy by his com­poser-friend Wil­liam Hirtz. Draw­ing on themes by Harold Arlen (mostly) and Herbert Stothart from the clas­sic movie, Hirtz wrote this show­piece for pi­ano four-hands and later re­ar­ranged it for solo pi­ano at Parker’s re­quest. The writ­ing was dense in­deed, re­call­ing the con­cert para­phrases of, say, Leopold Godowsky, who could hardly bear to leave any fin­ger un­em­ployed for more than a nanosec­ond. If I had heard this piece with­out also see­ing it, it would not have oc­curred to me that it was all be­ing han­dled by a sin­gle player. Parker led lis­ten­ers with ex­trav­a­gant panache over the rain­bow

The mem­bers of the Mon­trose Trio hit the deck run­ning, bring­ing with them an im­pres­sive wealth of in­di­vid­ual

tal­ent and cor­po­rate ex­pe­ri­ence in cham­ber mu­sic.

and down the yel­low brick road be­fore ar­riv­ing at the fi­nal ding-dong, leav­ing a dead witch in his wake.

But a fas­ci­nat­ing encore re­mained. Parker ex­plained that he was a de­voted afi­cionado of the late Os­car Peter­son (his fel­low Cana­dian pi­anist), that he kept in touch with Peter­son’s widow, and that she had just re­cently sent him a tran­scrip­tion some­one had made of a piece Peter­son had recorded but never writ­ten down, a “Blues Etude.” What a find! It is a short piece, a high-speed moto per­petuo only four min­utes long. Fig­u­ra­tion leaps from the page with the sparkle of jets of wa­ter in a Ravelian foun­tain. Blues in­forms the lan­guage, but so does boo­gie-woo­gie. You might call it blue­sie-woo­gie. Cal­cu­lated in notes per sec­ond, it prob­a­bly equaled what Parker had just dis­pensed in the Wiz­ard of Oz Fan­tasy, and it may have even ex­ceeded it.

On July 26 and 27 (I heard the lat­ter), vi­o­lin­ist Beaver and celist Green­smith (of the Mon­trose Trio) joined up with vi­o­lin­ist Ben­jamin Beil­man, vi­o­list Lily Fran­cis, and pi­anist Kirill Gerstein for a febrile in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Franck’s Pi­ano Quin­tet. The work is con­structed us­ing the cyclic struc­ture of which Franck and his fol­low­ers were fond, and what it gives up in lit­eral re­cur­rence of ma­te­rial is re­paid through ob­ses­sive for­ward thrust. The play­ers plumbed its su­perbly plot­ted drama, un­der­scor­ing its ebbs and flows to high­light its drama. Gerstein was more un­bri­dled than the strings, in the long run, but there was much to love in his con­tri­bu­tion, es­pe­cially in the de­monic third move­ment, where he dis­patched Mephistophe­lean, Lisz­tian galumph­ing with aban­don.

The pro­gram opened with Haydn’s “Fifths” Quar­tet (Op. 76, No. 2), played by the Miró Quar­tet, which did not do it great honor. Haydn string quar­tets are “ex­posed” pieces that mag­nify short­com­ings rather than veil them in tonal lux­ury. The mu­si­cians knew all the notes, ob­vi­ously, but their read­ing lacked the re­fine­ments that mark top-flight quar­tet-play­ing, de­tails in­volv­ing the bal­ance of tone and vi­brato, for ex­am­ple, or pre­cisely sculpted match­ing of phras­ing. In­to­na­tion was al­most al­ways iffy. It did not usu­ally in­volve the near-quar­ter-tones that in­fected the 16th-note rip­ples at the end of the first-move­ment ex­po­si­tion (both times around), but one never felt true se­cu­rity in the tun­ing; and that, by ex­ten­sion, ren­dered the play­ers un­able to gen­er­ate emo­tive ef­fect from de­part­ing minutely from the tun­ing norm. In­to­na­tion is a rel­a­tive thing, to be sure, but it can serve as a po­tent arrow in a quar­tet’s quiver. More beauty re­sides in this piece than the Miró’s roughshod ren­di­tion sug­gested.

One heard the dif­fer­ence when, af­ter in­ter­mis­sion, the same group per­formed Brahms’ Clar­inet Quin­tet, along with clar­inetist Todd Levy. The richer har­monies and tex­tures are more for­giv­ing than Haydn’s, but Levy also seemed to be lead­ing a de­tailed in­ter­pre­ta­tion, per­haps in­spir­ing the other per­form­ers to pay at­ten­tion in a way they had not when left to their own de­vices. His clar­inet-play­ing em­pha­sized good taste, kept closely in check, although al­low­ing a pleas­ing ram­bunc­tious­ness in the May­gar in­ter­lude in the slow move­ment. The greater part of that Ada­gio, how­ever, is given over to a sus­tained hush, con­veyed with forested, moss-en­shrouded mys­tery. There the strings in­stall mutes, and it seemed as if the tim­bral re­stric­tion this im­posed forced the Miró mu­si­cians to fo­cus more acutely on fun­da­men­tal de­tails in their play­ing. What re­sulted was a pu­rity not heard else­where in their per­for­mances that evening.

The Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val con­tin­ues through Aug. 24. Tick­ets are avail­able through Tick­ets Santa Fe at the Len­sic (505-988-1234, www.tick­etssantafe.org) and by vis­it­ing www.santafecham­ber­mu­sic.com.

on Kimura Parker

Mon­trose Trio

Ben­jamin Beil­man

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