Boston Globe

March 19, 2008

In Claremont Trio, Youth Is In Bloom

Listening to the Claremont Trio at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Sunday afternoon, you just knew that spring is coming. These fine musicians brought the vigor and nerviness of youth to the piano trios of Robert Schumann (the last and least known of his three, in G Minor, Op. 110) and Johannes Brahms (the first of his four, in B Minor, Op. 8). This was the final installment of three concerts this season devoted to the two composers' trios, and it ended with a flourish.

The choice of works was significant. Schumann was at the end of his creative career, and his last trio betrays signs, with its tendency to repetition, of the syphilis-caused madness that would drive him into the Rhine and, later, a sanatorium. Before his illness became serious, and two years after completing the trio, Schumann had met Brahms and found in him an heir and successor. (Schumann and his wife, Clara, were a little in love with the young man, who, at 20, was a beauty as well as a genius.) Within months, Brahms justified

his mentor's praise by writing his first piano trio, in which he absorbed and intensified Schumann's lyricism.

While Schumann's last trio is full of lovely, pregnant ideas that are repeated and not developed, blooms caught in an early frost, Brahms's bursts with vitality and imagination: a whole intoxicating orchard tossed on North Sea storm winds. (The Claremont played Brahms's thickly textured 1889 revision.)

Twin sisters Emily (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello) and pianist Donna Kwong formed the Claremont Trio when they were students at the Juilliard School nine years ago, and they have enjoyed a busy career. They play with passion and precision, and they had all the power to carry the great tidal wave of Brahms's final movement. It says even more for them that they made quieter passages in both works as interesting as the climaxes.

One might nitpick: Some pizzicati were a bit heavy; the violinist occasionally failed to create a free, singing tone in Brahms's high passages (though her instrument sounded wonderfully mellow in the lower-lying Schumann); and the pacing, though sometimes inspired, was not consistently fluid. These things should come with time. Spring is here; summer awaits them.

—David Perkins