Saturday, October 27, 2007

Beethoven, Hagen and Shostakovich find voice in the able hands of the Finisterra Trio

Shame on you if you missed the Finisterra Trio's recital at Benaroya Hall.  Though the trio has only been together for a few years, individually and  collectively they showed a remarkable sense of one another.  Its no wonder music luminaries like Bill McLaughlin, Ned Rorem (who someone once told me was the most important American composer living today), and the Florestan Trio have taken note.  With continued exceptional playing the trio's future is bright. 

The program on Friday featured the old and the not so old.  The violin version of the Op.11 by Beethoven began the evening.  Beethoven originally conceived this particular trio in its more popular clarinet form.  However, he wrote an alternative version for piano, cello, and violin.  Like the Op.1 trios of 1795, Beethoven continued to distance himself from piano dominance, instead infusing these early trios with a sense of dialogue among the instruments.  Kwan Bin, Tanya and Kevin "talked" to one another, balanced the way good conversation always is.

Beethoven ended the old. The rest of the night was devoted to works of the 20th and 21st Century.

Cellist Kevin Krentz helped the trio understand the next piece on the program - Daron Hagen's Angel Band Trio.  If the Angel Band is any indication of Hagen's corpus of work (and I think it is), then I believe he has answered the question that hounded Mahler much of his life: can a composer's music be loved by an audience while also being accepted as a serious artist?  In Hagen's case I believe the answer is yes.

The Angel Band (listen to the piece here) was commissioned for the Finisterra by Joyce Stroshal.  As Krentz pointed out, the work follows the course of a life, traveling from youth, to middle age and then old age.  Stroshal is present throughout the work, as the Angel Band tune.  Understandably enough, in the first and fifth movements Hagen presents the Angel Band tune through a series of variations.  The tune is explored warmly and expressively by the trio.  Even before the piece began, Krentz familiarized the audience with the tune by singing the hymn and strumming his cello like a guitar.   

Unlike the Beethoven, the Hagen trio had the ensemble working together for most of the piece.  The exception, was the second movement which allowed the focus to shift some to Kwan Bin Park and his sensitive violin playing as he mimicked a violinist on the Pont Neuf. 

The frenetic pulse of the rondo never got away from the group, which lead into a lovingly played chaconne only to have the chaconne, Angel Band tune and relics from the Pont Neuf return and merge leading the listener right into the final eight Angel Band variations.

Let me diverge for a moment to say: I can't wait for the Finisterra Trio, Hagen and Naxos to finish and release Hagen's four trios on CD (or download if you prefer).   

After intermission, the trio returned, and Krentz once again helped the audience through the stages of the piece soon to be performed.  The Op.67 trio is a vacillating work that requires exceptional technique and an open heart.  The work's first movement switches the roles of the violin and cello - asking the cellist to play its highest register and the violin to play at its lowest.  Krentz and Park conveyed the sadness Shostakovich undoubtedly felt as he struggled with the death of his friend Sollertinsky.  The trio had the scherzo bouncing wryly. 

The third movement brings the work to darker terrain.  It was during the composition of the trio that Shostakovich and the Russian people were learning about the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.  Stambuk expertly set the grim the tone of the third movement with a series of chords.  The mournful searching of the piece leads directly into a persistent and at times whirling Allegretto-Adagio.  The Finisterra Trio probed the content of the work while remaining attentive to the demands imposed on the performers.  This is especially the case in roughly the middle of the final movement where the trio exploded only to bring the piece back to its mournful conclusion.
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