Worcester Telegram & Gazette

April 28, 2008

Claremont Trio Riveting, Just Plain Fun To Watch

Piano trios seem to come and go in classical music circles, but the Claremont Trio is one that many of us would like to see just move in somewhere nearby and hang around for a long, long time.

The group, comprising pianist Donna Kwong, violinist Emily Bruskin and her twin sister, cellist Julia Bruskin, returned to Tuckerman Hall Saturday night—one of the rare occasions a chamber group has been invited back to perform in two consecutive Music Worcester seasons.

With exuberance, artful substance and passionate clarity, these three musicians can challenge themselves without frightening an audience. Saturday evening the trio folded Beethoven, Brahms and some more contemporary music into a program at times enlightening, often riveting and always just plain fun to watch.

The musicians were at the top of their game from the outset, performing some early Beethoven, the Trio in G Major, Op. 1, No. 2, and it only got better after that. Here is where Beethoven began to assimilate the ideas of his teacher, Haydn, and here is where the Claremont Trio found an elegant balance between Beethoven's own intensity and restraint.

Here is also where the trio began an affecting musical banter that seemed to pervade the entire program, with one musician articulating a phrase, which was then snatched up by another and modified to echo in the next passage. It was an infectious progression that lasted through the eloquence of the slow movements and into the sparkle of the finale.

These musicians are nothing if not engaged with their music. Ms. Kwong's intense playing sometimes risked overpowering the strings. Emily Bruskin sometimes seemed to be elevated right out of her seat, and her sister fairly swooned over the cello passages. Among everyone within hearing, only Ms. Kwong's page turner seemed unaffected.

For its second piece, the group turned to Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a 20th-century Italian composer who emigrated to Los Angeles just before World War II. The flavor of this music, however, was distinctly Spanish, inspired by the composer's admiration for the guitarist Andres Segovia. He has the violin and cello strummed like guitars or rapped percussively with the musician's bows to create that peculiar Andalusian atmosphere.

We've been hearing plenty of Brahms this concert season but none have been more electrifying readings than the Claremont's performance of the grandiose Piano Trio in C Major, the last announced piece on the program.

None of Brahms' contemporaries approached his mastery in chamber music and he was at his best combining keyboard and strings. The

full-blooded romanticism and rich colorations of the C Major were utterly dazzling in the hands of the Claremont Trio.

When Emily Bruskin finally introduced the encore as being "back by popular demand," she was talking about the selection, Paul Schoenfield's sensational tour de force "Cafe Music," which the trio performed last season to the audience's great delight. She very well could have been describing Saturday's entire concert. And at this point even the stoical page turner cracked a smile.

—Frank Magiera