Bridge Record’s inaugural recording with the Claremont Trio seems to be a match made in heaven—no matter what your beliefs.
How entirely fitting that Beethoven’s Op. 1, No. 1 is included. Imagine being an aristocrat in the late 1700s and hearing this music as an introduction to the fledgling composer’s art. Haydn’s fans would have been astonished at the full-partner role of the cello while Mozart’s devotees might have come away wondering how so much drama and spirit could be compacted into a half hour.
Fast forward to the 21st century and listeners who have yet to hear violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin (cheers to the extraordinary gene pool), pianist Andrea Lam along with conductor Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra might well find their initial introduction to the performers and the repertoire (compared to the piano concerti, the “Triple Concerto” is a relative stranger to concert life) a delightful experience on many planes.
Due to the ease of playback options in our digital age, many will benefit from playing the Trio ahead of the Concerto if only to better understand/savour Beethoven’s compositional growth over the decade or so between these completed works. It could also be instructive to hear the chamber musicians on their own before experiencing how they bring their considerable skills into the orchestral arena.
And what considerable skills they are.
From the very first measure of Op. 1, it is immediately clear that the performers are early masters of touch, taste and tone: fun and forceful as required and always lead by the music rather than falling into the trap (so like the narcissistic approach of a few) of favouring sound over substance.
The “Adagio”emerges as if the music were already in play, so readily does Lam usher in the first subject, featuring an unforgettable leading tone (at last: the heady combination of weight and wait, which—maddeningly—eludes far too many others). Little wonder the cello then piano take up the mood and marvellously sing through their duet (where only a subjective infusion of gooey portamento mars the result to these less-is-more ears) with such élan. After an appropriately reluctant farewell, the movement finishes up with a seemingly simple plucked goodbye/au revoir/goodbye that is made all the more effective because of Adam Abeshouse’s wizardry with microphones and mix.
Incredibly foreshadowing the “Eroica Symphony” to come, the “Scherzo” is a model of tight, taut lines so deftly balanced by the Trio’s calming piano atop barcarolle-like strings.
The “Finale’s” many technical challenges are tossed off with style and deceptive ease, notably the development’s busy, bravura-filled statements and Lam’s ideally timed hesitato before the last dash to journey’s end.
In the Concerto, West leads a spirited performance of the ever-engaging work with a sympathetic ear to the soloists. A few of the strings and occasionally the tympani slip into the fray of the opening exposition a hair early but everyone settles down nicely once the cello takes stage with contagious confidence, soon followed by the complementary sweet tone of the violin. For her part, Lam intriguingly, purposely understates the piano role, knowing full well her time to shine will come in the “Rondo alla polacca” (yet make no mistake: all of Lam’s contributions support the whole and dazzle the ear with an overflowing palette of colours).
West and his charges revel with the Claremonts, never too heavy (yet a tad distant at times) and use their collective sense of “dance” to excellent effect. The contributions from the two Bruskin’s fit like the proverbial glove—both deliver their changes of register with consummate skill.
Following a nearly unanimous opening, the cello goes right to the heart of the “Adagio cantabile,” rendering its key appoggiatura with unflinching emotion. The transition of the finale is superb on all fronts, leading to an energetic last movement that begs for more even as Beethoven demonstrates yet again how even a simple scale can have unimagined power when least expected.
With such an auspicious début, here’s to more from all concerned. JWR