Chamber Music Monterey Bay (CMMB) has a long tradition of presenting the crème de la crème of chamber ensembles and also of commissioning significant new works by contemporary composers. In last night’s concert at Sunset Center CMMB once again hit it out of the ballpark. The Claremont Trio was at the top of its form, and the commissioned work, Four Folk Songs for piano trio by Gabriela Lena Frank, was a hit with the audience.
Before the concert Artistic Director Erica Horn came out on stage to introduce CMMB’s new Executive Director Andrew T. Sudol, and also inform us that since the trio’s regular violinist Emily Bruskin was on maternity leave, for this evening’s performance violinist Harumi Rhodes would be joining cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andrea Lam. That this was no last minute substitution was immediately apparent by the precision of the ensemble and the way the players listened intently to each other in blending, complementing and enhancing their individual artistry.
The CMMB commissioned work on the program, Four Folk Songs for violin , cello and piano, composed in 2012, was presented in the program notes as a series of postcards from the mother of the composer featuring her native land, Peru. Sounding quite idiomatic for piano trio, this fifteen-minute work presents some challenging sounds in its first two movements, but in the third movement, Serenata, composer Frank totally grabbed our total attention with lovely pizzicato and strumming effects by violinist Harumi Rhodes and cellist Julia Bruskin that provided a fascinating background for an extended solo mostly in thirds by pianist Andrea Lam. There was also an intriguing alternation of major and minor in the strumming of the two string instruments. The final movement was a knockout of wild rhythms and brilliant playing by pianist Lam. So, we had two treats here — a satisfying new work plus ensemble playing at an exalted level.
We learned in the program notes that the Smetana Piano Trio in G minor was written shortly after the tragic death of Smetana’s four-year-old daughter from scarlet fever. Not Surprisingly, the trio’s first movement was a powerful expression of grief. The second movement’s wistful Schumanesque flavor was followed by the dazzling Presto Finale that was a knockout and brought out the best in each of the three players.
A perennial favorite, Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio ended the program. In this work we heard solid, musically compelling performances by three artists who managed to find new meanings in this familiar masterpiece. During this performance I found myself mesmerized and transported to a higher plane of consciousness. Wow!
The audience rewarded the trio with prolonged applause and a standing ovation — it was much deserved.