1+1+1=way more than 3 at Frankly Music
Big, bold sound and grand, intense drama shook the little Helen Bader recital hall at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Thursday night, as pianist Jeewon Park, cellist Edward Arron and violinist Frank Almond finished up a Frankly Music season that lingered into midsummer.
You expect Brahms to be large-scale, but the Trio in C, Opus 87 was epic Thursday. The three musicians built the opening theme to an overwhelming climax, and that was just the beginning. The essential Romantic surge of the piece took on enormous power in a reading that crested, ebbed, gathered strength and broke with rising force over four movements.
Brahms, of course, supplied plenty of intimate moments, and the musicians understood them as such. Without, say, the sweet little shepherd’s tune in the sixth variation of the second movement — touchingly rendered by Almond and Arron — the trio would come off as breast-beating melodrama. But even that tune intensifies into the vehement sort of passion that is the rule rather than the exception here. The musicians drove home the emotional volatility of the music with uncommon force.
They didn’t pull back much for Haydn’s Trio in C, Hob. XV:27. As Almond noted in remarks from the stage, we think of Haydn as a good-natured, witty Classicist. Almond argued that this late work leans toward a forward-looking, more volatile, Beethovenian aesthetic. They played the piece with that in mind, and they made it stick.
I hasten to add that the playing was as precise as it was intense. Park’s crisp articulation and nano-tolerance rhythmic proportions brought a bracing clarity to all the music, but especially to the Haydn. The reading leaned toward the Romantic, but nothing about it was maudlin or sloppy.
Clear rhythm detonated the charge in John Musto’s amazing Piano Trio, of 1999 vintage. Almond, Park and Arron dashed through a minefield of rhythmic modulations and cross-rhythms. The music often gave the effect of some infernal machine running off kilter.
In the first movement, a dreamy theme over watery augmented piano chords contrasted sharply with a bizarre, furious second theme loaded with violent syncopations. These three played them violently enough to jerk a rider off a horse. In the second movement, the piano introduced and the string twined ’round a languid theme kissed with just the faintest blues perfume.
A surreal tango slugs it out with angst-ridden jazz, driven by Arron’s pizzicato walking-bass line, in the last movement. At the very end, every idea in the piece crashed in a conflagration of a finale.