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 and, 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.