The Zodiac Trio has assembled a quartet of works ranging from Khachaturian’s seldom-performed 1932 Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano to Sy Brandon’s Memorial Day (2006) inspired “Lest We Forget.”
In the former, violinist Vanessa Mollard and clarinetist Kliment Krylovskiy respond to pianist Riko Higuma’s thoughtful opening, bringing the theme to soulful life then tossing off the technical challenges with ease and style, responding to the frequent tempo shifts in a convincing way, leaving room for the piano’s turn at the haunting tune. During the middle frame, Khachaturian seems reluctant to commit to full-fledged forward movement, pulling back only to refuel and charge again before resolution is quietly and uncertainly reached. Eastern European folk music forms the basis for the closing “Moderato,” filled with much invention along its compositional path. The musicians were engagingly and totally involved before the piano took the melody down a different, initially solo road that cried out for counterpoint rather than mere commentary. The composer’s predilection for tune over development let the music relax again before quietly slipping into the night. Such uncertain writing may well explain why the brilliant orchestrator never dipped his muse’s toe into the depths of chamber music again.
Nearly three-quarters of a century later, Brandon’s heart-conceived Trio couldn’t live up to its program: “Fury” was, at best, mildly angry: the music was oddly lean given the power at his disposal; similarly, until the final measures, “Devastation” didn’t find its way into much less under the skin of despair with its optimistic aura and too-pleasant-by-half tone; “Triumph of the Sprit” did reaffirm but needs much more angst before it can truly make its point.
The CD kicked off with a lively reading of Paul Schoenfield’s Klezmer-rich Trio. Krylovskiy was certainly up to the demands of the frequent slides and bends but his reed selection, producing a marvellously crafted legato, took one or two scraps too many leaving some excursions to the super register just shy of their mark. Initially, Mollard seemed a bit distant to her more present colleagues, but soon settled into the Mahler-inspired “March,” rendering her time with the theme in a memorable, secure fashion. “Kozatske” was a frantic dance from lift off. Now, having come this far, the players need only to trust themselves more, and “let it go.” In this instance, the opening was a touch too careful and the rigours of the arhythmical middle section threatened to send their musical train off the rails. Kudos to Higuma for keeping her talented colleagues on track!
The best work by far—both compositionally and in terms of performance—was Marcus Paus’ pair of movements. The first was engaging from the outset: piano chords and violin pedal then a carefully shaped movement unfolded—a true “Pastoral” at every turn, effectively tinged with a few drops of pain to balance the beauty. Mollard’s journey into the stratosphere was especially fine; Krylovskiy responded with his own marvellously sculpted line. Then all combined with a oneness of purpose that was compelling to the ear and a tender farewell. The “Energico” was just that, the opening wild ride jammed with copious double stops and trills flying everywhere before pizzicati and slick slides added even more to the fray. The brief fugato was most welcome on this voyage, making up for the unrealized promise in the Khachaturian. Soon back on the spirited trail, the infectious excitement generated easily eclipsed the few pitch vagaries. Here’s to more from Paus’ pen. JWR