Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Music review: Prima Trio offers revelation at Flagler concert

The Prima Trio in concert Tuesday night.
(Photo by David Carson; copyright 2009 Flagler Museum)

By Greg Stepanich

PALM BEACH --- Chamber music has its origins in pieces written for intimate spaces, and that can mean a sedate concertgoing experience even when the art form leaves home to mingle with a larger crowd.

But take that same kind of music and give it to three young, supremely talented, enthusiastic people, and you have a recital that's anything but a sonic substitute for Ambien. Such was the case Tuesday night as the Prima Trio presented a concert of four older and newer works in the Flagler Museum series on Palm Beach.

Boris Allakhverdyan, Anastasia Dedik and David Bogorad.

The trio -- Russian-born pianist Anastasia Dedik, Azeri-Armenian clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan and Danish-American violinist/violist David Bogorad -- is the second iteration (Bogorad replaced the original violinist) of a threesome formed in 2004 at Oberlin Conservatory that won the prestigious Fischoff chamber music prize in 2007. Even with a different membership, it's not hard to hear why: This is a group that marries tremendous technique to seamless ensemble, and often puts it at the service of little-known but worthy repertoire, making a concert by the trio not just entertaining but enlightening.

The depth and polish of the trio could be heard from the very first liquid phrase of the opening work, the Clarinet Trio (in E-flat, K. 498, known as the Kegelstatt) of Mozart. The sound of piano and viola was rich, full and confident, and was soon matched by an exquisitely played answer from the clarinet. This was first-rate Mozart all the way through, one that respected his period but didn't prevent him from sounding fiery and powerful, and in addition one in which tiny details such as a little four-note phrase leading into a theme could slow down perfectly in unison before the initial pace was resumed.

Each player demonstrated a thorough command of his or her instrument, such as in Bogorad's bustling triplets in the trio of the minuet, Dedik's sparkling concerto-like scales in the finale, and the ability of Allakhverdyan to bring the same smoothness and centeredness of tone to any register in which he played.

A continuation of the same kind of energy and propulsive forward movement was evident in the second piece, Schumann's four-movement Marchenerzahlungen (Fairy Tales), Op. 132, one of his last works but also one that's imbued with much of the composer's distinctive poetry. In the second movement and also in the fourth, the Prima musicians made the most of each contrasting section, bringing a completely different character to the music: soft and serene against the second movement's initial tempestuous grinding chords, lightfooted and playful in the fourth as a respite following the jagged edges of its opening theme.

The contemplative calm of the third Fairy Tale could have been even more relaxed; it sounded a little pushed, and the tuning of the final G minor chord of the second movement left something to be desired. But overall the trio showed what Bogorad told the audience -- "We really enjoy playing this piece" -- and one was left wondering why it is more chamber groups don't take up this fine work.

It was on the second half -- in which Bogorad switched to violin from viola -- that the Prima threesome showed their mettle as interpreters of contemporary (or nearly so) music, with revelatory performances of a trio by the Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, and a serenade by Peter Schickele, the American composer and humorist of P.D.Q.Bach fame.

The Khachaturian Trio, written in 1932, has to be regarded as one of the composer's more successful pieces. Here are the overt folk influences of the Caucasus and Central Asia without the overblown trappings that mar such scores as Gayne and Spartacus; instead, the exotic sounds are integrated into the music rather than hammered home, and the result is tasteful and elegant.

This is native music for two of the trio's members, but especially Allakhverdyan, whose performance breathed commitment from the mournful opening melody to the ornamented song imitations of the third, which evokes an Uzbek wedding dance. The trio as a whole seemed to luxuriate in the special colors of this piece, and also unleashed plenty of volume when it counted in the second movement, plus driving energy in the finale.

The Schickele work, Serenade for Three, which dates from 1993, offers ample portions of the composer's gift for jests, in the frenzied country fiddling and bluesy piano of the finale, but it also has real distinction as a straight-faced piece of music. It also is a tremendously demanding work, with a first movement full of rapid rushes of notes for all the instruments, played here with exemplary precision.

The second movement, marked Songs, is quite French in style, with ostinato patterns in the piano underneath a slow-moving melody in violin and clarinet following a repeated church-bell announcement by the pianist. The Variations that closes the work is unbridled joy from beginning to end, and received a terrific performance, though the clowning moments -- the fiddling, the piano solo ostensibly inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis -- make the piece somewhat uneven.

For an encore, the trio performed an arrangement of Otono Porteno, the Autumn movement from the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires of Astor Piazzolla. This reading had the same kind of dedication and finish the Prima brought to the concert overall, which in sum was a most enjoyable way to hear a group of which big things may be expected.

The Canadian violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou will next appear in the Flagler Museum series in a concert set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19. On the program are works by Beethoven (Romance in F), Richard Strauss (his early Sonata), de Falla (Suite of Spanish Folks Songs and Dances), Pablo de Sarasate (the Faust Fantasy), and Fritz Kreisler (Schon Rosmarin). Tickets are $60. For more information, call 655-2833.

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