Cape Cod Times

August 9, 2012

Trio shows versatility in festival concert

COTUIT—Tuesday evening's performance by the dynamic Claremont Trio at the Cotuit Center for the Arts demonstrated the expressive range in the combination of piano, cello and violin. The program, part of the continuing Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, included standard repertory works by Mozart and Brahms, and a new piece, commissioned for the trio, by young American composer Sean Shepherd.

The program had everything for a chamber music lover: deceptively simple (or deceptively complex, depending on point of view) Mozart, facile accessibility (Shepherd), and robust emotional virtuosity, from the Brahms B major trio.

Claremont—twin sisters Emily (violin) and Julia (cello) Bruskin, with pianist Andrea Lam—which is steadily building its mid-career reputation by commissioning challenging contemporary works, began with the Mozart C major trio, K. 548. A late work, written as he was developing the final three symphonies,

the C major reminds with a few of its opening gestures of the great "Jupiter Symphony," which shares the same key.

Mozart is too easy to play when you're young, and too hard to play when you're old. That's what a great pianist, in his 80s, once said. What he meant—well, he meant many things—but one thing he meant was that Mozart's music may not be technically difficult, but is always emotionally intense. Casual playing might make the notes, but misses the point.

Claremont made no such mistake. Starting a evening with Mozart can be hard: Nobody is sufficiently warmed up, but Claremont drew the audience right into the work, which begins with a briskly efficient allegro. There were some muddied passage in the piano, and some careless intonation in the upper strings, but it came about because the players were taking chances. Emily Bruskin especially seemed to seek out whatever nuance of musical character she could find. The second movement, a slow cantabile, repeats its opening section verbatim, but the second time through, the trio showed that a repeat may look the same on the page, but a new sense of expression must be conveyed. The singing quality lingered slightly longer, and the rests were drawn out for emphasis. By the time the allegro finale began, with its brusque staccato figure in the violin building the intensity, everyone was thoroughly warmed up.

Claremont premiered Shepherd's "Trio" this January at the splashy opening of Calderwood Hall at the Gardner Museum, and it was a pleasure to hear the work again. Shepherd, whose music is drawing increased attention through major commissions from the Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, has a quirky, light style that stretches traditional structures but not tonal boundaries.

A first movement, "florid hopscotch," does just what its title says, popping abruptly from one sunny figure in an instrument to another and then to another. The second movement involves more substantial

ensemble engagement, beginning with a stunning cello line (Julia Bruskin played marvelously all evening) that leads to long, swirling textures passed among the threesome. The finale has two moods: The first, beginning with a repeated figure by the piano, has long dancing lines; the second, with short, staccato notes in each instrument and stuck rests for accents, has an abrupt character.

Shepherd's "Trio" makes an excellent foil for longer, more challenging works on a program. After intermission, that's what we got. Brahms' B Major trio is both an early and late work: He published it early—his first chamber piece—but revised it 45 years later, shortening it and adding to its intensity.It conveys great emotional power right from the initial, moving lines in the cello. Much could be said to describe this complex piece, but one thing is obvious: It is perfectly proportioned. Melodies abound, almost casually offered and investigated, but all three players share them equally. Gentle figures are balanced by rousing climaxes—