~ Author: Scoresby
Tuesday December 5th, 2017 - After hearing the wonderful performance Ensemble Connect gave earlier this year, I was looking forward to another interesting night with them. This evening's performance was also in Carnegie Hall's Weill Hall and featured a bit of an eclectic program. I noticed that there were quite a few very young people in the audience. During a speech after the first work, it was explained these were some students/teachers from various public schools with whom the fellows in Ensemble Connect had worked over the past two years. It was great to see such young faces in the audiences, a rarity in performances like this and they were (for the most part) well behaved.
The program began with "Brass Trio" by the Swiss jazz/classical/world music saxophone player/composer Daniel Schnyder. The trio consisted of Nicolee Kuester on horn, Brian Olson on trumpet, and Oliver Barrett on Trombone. This five movement work is a bit of an enigma; it is dense, highly contrapuntal and yet also jazzy at times. The performers did an excellent job texturing the dense first and second movements, especially given how exposed each line is. They captured all of the funky rhythms in the third movement well, everyone around me seemed to be tapping their foot. While enjoyable, I can't say this was a piece I'd listen to again - but all three musicians deserve credit for giving life to such a difficult piece to coordinate.
Following the trio was the piece I had come to hear: Mládí (Youth) by Leoš Janáček. I hadn't heard even a recording before, but it is from Janáček's later period when he was in his 80's. Due to its unusual instrumentation of a wind quintet plus bass clarinet it is not performed all that often, but after such a convincing reading as this one it would be great to see it programmed again. The performers were Rosie Gallagher on flute, Stuart Breczinski on Oboe, Bixby Kennedy on Clarinet, Yoonah Kim on Bass Clarinet, Rémy Taghavi on Basson, and Nicolee Kuester returning from the previous piece to play horn. They all performed standing – it was funny seeing Ms. Kim playing a bass clarinet almost as tall she was on a stand.
The opening Allegro oscillates between an ambiguous but vibrant theme that opens the work and a manic/ecstatic melody. The scoring has the lower instruments playing many tremolos throughout the entire work, but the effect is magnificent. Like the two string quartets, this work is succinct, full of repetition, and transparent, but with an underlying nostalgia that never leaves. One of my favorite moments was the in the second movement where the bassoon comes in for a brief passage. Mr. Taghavi’s woody precise notes were bubbling, charming, and captured all the humor of interrupting the melody. Ms. Kuester’s descending lines in this movement were also a highlight. During the slower section of the third movement there is a countermelody that could almost sound like cross bowings on string instrument. Here the woodwinds flourish though, making what would seem banal on the strings all the more colorful and delightful. It was particularly enjoyable to hear how these musicians emphasized the melancholy and yearning in the score, not just leaving it as a charming piece. Well-played chamber music like this is such a pleasure to hear live.
Following the intermission was the heftiest piece on program: Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. This is a classic 50- minute-to-one hour piece that has two movements that seem to keep tumbling on. I'd never listened to the piece all the way through before, so it was interesting to finally hear a performance. The soloists, pianist Mika Sasaki, violinist Adelya Nartadjieva, and cellist Julia Yang gave an impassioned performance. While the playing was well crafted in the first movement, the trio didn't seem to quite click until start of the second.
Ms. Sasaki took her time in savoring the delicate opening theme to the second movement, letting each phrase ring. During the fourth variation, Ms. Yang and Ms. Nartadjieva were in sync, playfully taking over each other's lines and letting the counterpoint be heard. The highlight of the performance was the clarity and fun they seemed to be having during the giant fugue of variation 8. Each phrase was crystal clear and each member of the trio got to show off as a soloist for particular lines. Ms. Yang's warm sound provided a backbone of counterpoint during some of the more active sections. After each subsequent variation, the score gets more virtuosic (particularly in the piano part) and Ms. Sasaki handled the difficulties well. Dynamics wise, the balance felt a little too skewed towards the piano in last few variations, but it was a fun evening of quality chamber music.