At its best, the Claremont Trio, comprised of pianist Donna Kwong and twin sisters violinist Emily Bruskin and cellist Julia Bruskin, can captivate an audience with their surprising combination of technical brilliance and interpretive sensitivity.
During their Sunday afternoon concert in Kleinhaus Mary Seaton Room this all came together most compellingly in Beethoven's Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3. In the opening, "Allegro con brio," it was truly amazing to hear how these youthful artists could phrase and inflect Beethoven's long lyric lines with the kind of suppleness and conviction Sir John Gielgud could transmit in delivering a Shakespeare soliloquy.
The clarity and cultural definition for their articulation, particularly the pianist's, illuminated the music's structure very revealingly and made the second movement's variations stand out boldly against each other. The descending piano runs in the Menuetto were sinuous and alive, and in the final Prestissimo the players' ensemble was impeccable and excitingly animated.
The piano did, however, have a tendency to overbalance the strings in those animated moments.
This imbalance was more of a detriment in Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 1987 Trio. Here, also, the piano's clarity of articulation diminished and the wonderful repetitive four-note rising ostinato phrases seemed blurred and diffuse. It was a very aggressive, almost angry performance that seemed hurled out defiantly. This is not what I sense that Zwilich's music is all about, but the audience, most of whom were probably hearing it for the first time, gave it a strong response.
The concluding Mendelssohn Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 was back on firmer ground, and the turbulent first movement was given a very idiomatic treatment. Again, however, pianist Kwong tended to accompany faster temps with louder dynamics, and her partners were often playing in her shade. In the expressively played second movement balances were better, the fleet gossamer Scherzo was a delight, and in the Finale the strings asserted themselves more aggressively and a strong, coherent performance was the result.