Trillium kicks off St. Paul’s series
By Greg Stepanich
October 10, 2012
As it has done now for several seasons, the Trillium Piano Trio of Jupiter opened the new season of concerts at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and this year brought along a good piece of fresh repertoire to deepen its offerings.
The Piano Trio of the Swiss composer Frank Martin, written in 1925, is based, as its subtitle says, on Irish folksongs, and Martin made a serious, sinewy piece out of the tunes. The trio – pianist Yoko Sata Kothari, violinist Ruby Berland and cellist Benjamin Salsbury – gave a decent account of the piece, helping to acquaint the rather large concert audience with a worthy work of early 20th-century modernism.
Standing out in this performance were Salsbury’s solo work at the beginning of the second movement, which showed off his dark, warm sound, and the overall high spirits and rhythmic infectiousness of the third movement, a vigorous jig. But while it was an effective, engaging reading overall, it lacked a certain lived-in quality that would have allowed some more contrast and drama. The church itself doesn’t offer a lot of reverb, which would help, but the work is written in definable sections, and they needed to be set off with greater light and shade.
The concert opened with the lone, and late, Piano Trio (Op. 120) from 1923 of Gabriel Fauré, which like all this master’s late works has an elusive, refined character that can be hard to bring off despite the beauty of Fauré’s first-rate melodic gift, much in evidence here. Kothari opened the work with gentleness and mystery, and solo passages from Berland and Salsbury were deeply Romantic and evocative.
The end of the second movement, which begins with simple chords like one of Fauré’s songs, climaxes in an intense dialogue between violin and cello that needs a tight focus by both players to make narrative sense. It was somewhat aimless in this performance, though interesting; a stronger sense of dramatic line would have helped. The finale is difficult to bring off, composed as it is of a dramatic string motif that reminds everyone of Pagliacci (a coincidence, Fauré said), and a jumpy, skittish piano motif that contrasts starkly with it. Kothari did a good job of bringing it out, and the movement came off effectively.
The concert closed with the second of Mendelssohn’s piano trios (in C minor, Op. 66). It’s a beautiful, underrated work, even with its secure repertory status. The tense opening theme is stated in unison by violin and cello after the piano entrance, but Berland and Salsbury were not in tune with each other, which spoiled the effect. The rest of the movement had strength and drive, which helped make up for it, and Kothari had clearly worked hard to bring off her cascading solo figures in the middle.
The second movement had a swift kind of lightness despite its Andante espressivo marking, which is more in keeping with older practice and fits the music better. All three players brought plenty of prettiness to this music’s long melodic outpouring without overdoing it, which was refreshing. The exciting scherzo was taken a nice brisk clip that didn’t flag, much to the musicians’ credit, and the finale was offered in good storm-and-calm style, with plenty of passion for the outer sections and graceful sturdiness for the chorale (which is Mendelssohn’s own, though drawn from Gelobet sei Du, Jesu Christ).
All three of the musicians in the Trillium Piano Trio have considerable ability and experience, and they are to be commended for continuing to pursue this substantial literature. They play with skill and dedication, but they could use some more ensemble time together so they could add more contrast, more shape, and a more organic feel to the ebb and flow of the music. Some more frequent performances, in other words, are in order. And if that happens, the payoff could be handsome.