“Three’s Company”

DallyBy Scott MacClelland

IF ARCANA WAS YOUR TASSE DE CAFÉ then you heard members of Ensemble Monterey on the weekend play several regional premieres. Not that these were new pieces—all date from the 20th century—just obscure ones. If any of the six works could claim any familiarity at all it would have been the concert bookends: Debussy’s 20-minute Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp to begin and the Suite from The Gadfly by Shostakovich to finish. The former, dating from World War I, was tastily played by, respectively, Lars Johannesson, Susan Brown and Jennifer Cass. The latter, arranged from a film score, surrounded pianist Lucy Faridany with a quintet of strings: violinists David Dally (pictured) and Shannon Delaney D’Antonio, violist Brown, cellist Margie Dally and bassist Kelly Beecher. (Its fourth movement, Romance, gained independent familiarity by having been used as the musical theme in the popular British TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies.)

The program, titled Three’s Company, heard on Saturday at the acoustically lively St. Philip’s Church in Carmel Valley as the crescent new moon sank in the chilly Western night sky, was, save the last piece, dedicated exclusively to ensembles of three.

Brown stayed on for the five-movement, 15-minute Suite by Randall Thompson, now joined by oboist Peter Lemberg and clarinetist Erica Horn. Thompson is better known as a major American choral composer and this work, clearly influenced by American folk music, was a refreshing surprise. It was followed by Serenade No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinů, the Moravian-born, prolific internationalist whose styles range all over the map. (Martinů, it is now conjectured, was autistic; while at Tanglewood he was so lost in musical thought that he walked off a second floor passageway and almost died from injuries sustained in a hard fall onto concrete.) In three short movements, this piece manages to concentrate its composer’s eclectic taste, from pop music to neo-classicism à la Stravinsky.

Three student musicians from Youth Music Monterey, coached by Horn and sounding fully professional, played the opening movement of Max Reger’s Serenade Op. 141-A. They were flutist Olive De Luca, violinist Lance Yang Bauer and violist Helen Liuyi Yang.

Lambert, Johannesson and Brown then surveyed Terzetto by Gustav Holst, a composer who, like JS Bach, had one eye on the past and the other on the future. In this piece Holst concocted a unique idea for the 1920s: write each part in a different key. It took almost no accidentals for the whole to remain coherent while distinctly polyphonic.

Then came the Shostakovich, with its strutting Overture, melancholy Folk Festival, cute Barrel Organ Waltz, racy Galop, and the celebrated Romance whose big solo was played to haunting effect by concertmaster Dally.

Claremont Trio


By Scott MacClelland

CLAREMONT TRIO cellist Julia Bruskin told the Saturday audience at Carmel’s Sunset Center that she and her colleagues were delighted to return to the stage here after a nine-year absence. She also explained that her twin sister Emily was on maternity leave HarumiRhodes2015.7and, for the Claremont’s new tour, was replaced by Harumi Rhodes (right), a highly-accomplished chamber musician—a founding member of the award-winning Trio Cavatina—and solo violinist in her own right.

Bruskin’s remarks followed the opening Four Folks Songs of 2012, a Claremont commission, by American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. The 15-minute charmer, in four discrete parts, celebrates equally Frank’s Peruvian-born mother and their mutual cultural heritage that includes the influence on that equatorial South American nation of colonial Spain. Most enchanting were the pizzicato in the clever “Children’s Dance” and the guitar-like strumming in the “Serenata.”

The highlight of the program was Bedřich Smetana’s 28-minute Piano Trio in A Minor, a work of anguish by the young composer written shortly after the death of his four-year-old daughter. The big opening movement is fraught, its forceful development attaining near-hysterical angst. Pianist Andrea Lam led the charge in a deeply-felt reading.

These fine musicians need to step back and rethink Beethoven’s popular “Archduke” Trio, particularly, but not exclusively, the first movement which requires the leadership of a singular vision. For Beethoven’s chamber music with piano that vision starts—and usually remains—at the composer’s instrument. With all three artists intently reading their parts, mismatched phrasing prevented the opening movement from achieving a crisp unanimity of line that can lift the piece to grandeur. To be blunt, these three excellent musicians were not listening to each other.

Meanwhile, among moments that stood out were that dark chromatic wandering that gives rise to inexplicable fugal bits in the scherzo and the broadly arching Andante cantabile with its ennobled theme and variations. Then came the inane final rondo which, thankfully, the composer chose to foreshorten.

This was the first public outing by Claremont of a seven-concert tour program. I’d bet that by Sunday’s performance in Mill Valley their “Archduke” will have come into sharp focus.