MusicWeb International

January 2009

American Trios

Ellen Taaffe ZWILLICH (b. 1939)
Piano Trio (1987) [15:20]

Leon KIRCHNER (b. 1919)
Piano Trio (1954) [14:00]
Piano Trio II (1993) [17:42]

Mason BATES (b. 1977)
String Band (2002) [12:26]

Paul SCHOENFELD (b. 1947)
Café Music (1986) [14:48]

Claremont Trio (Emily Bruskin (violin), Julia Bruskin (cello), Donna Kwong (piano))

rec. 10-11 March 2008, Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York DDD

TRIA RECORDS no catalogue number [75:07]

Zwillich's Trio makes a fantastic, and exhilarating, start to this disk of contemporary American Piano Trios. It's fast and furious, meaty, and there's something elementally vital, and vitally elemental, about this music. The moment it starts it really takes off and the first movement is an helter-skelter headlong rush in thrilling short notes which never relents in its forward motion—this is rousing stuff. A brief, and restrained, coda sets the tone for the slow movement, which is very serious and intense. The finale is again fast and furious, but with more serious intent than the first. Not a note is wasted in this cogently argued work, which is superbly laid out for the three instruments, and it is full of rhythmic and melodic interest and receives a superbly exciting and committed performance.

Kirchner's two Triosare written in his own personal non-tonal style, which owes something to Schönberg even though this is not strict 12-note music. The later work is more lyrical and thoughtful, the music gradually unfolding before our ears. However, despite the range of colour Kirchner employs I found myself tired of the second work before reaching the half way mark for the music is so dour and gray that I found nothing of interest in it to catch my interest. No matter how great the advocacy of the performance, and these performers certainly seem to be well in control of their interpretation, if the raw material of the composition doesn't grab you then nothing will. Perhaps it was a mistake to programme the two works together for the idiom is too restricted and lacks a real point to aim for.

Mason Bates's String Band contains some good 'ole fiddling which becomes more sophisticated and turns into a very serious, and unusual, middle section, which, although it seems to have dropped in from another piece, is actually a very clever continuation of the opening music. The fiddling returns and the work ends somewhat enigmatically. This work is a real winner but it's not easy to grasp first time round, but after a few hearings you'll start to follow Bates's argument.

Café Music sounds exactly as its title would have you believe. It's real entertainment music, easy on the ear, fun to listen to, and obviously fun to play. There's no depth to this work but it does what it promises and you cannot ask for more than that.

This is a very attractive and interesting programme—my worries about the placing of the Kirchner works notwithstanding—with excellent playing, very fine recording, good notes and something for everyone. I am sure that much of this music will be new to most, as most of it was to me, but don't let that put you off. Enjoy it!

—Bob Briggs