High-energy Ensemble Bring Compositions to Life

by David Rodgers

GREENSBORO – The second concert of the Summer Music from Greensboro season on Tuesday, July 26, featured the Neave Trio from Boston, a high-energy ensemble that played works by Chaminade, Debussy and Piazzolla. The three superb musicians were Anna Williams on violin, Mikhail Veselov on cello and Eri Nakamura on piano, who brought these pieces to life for an appreciative audience in Fellowship Hall at United Church of Christ.

The “Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 11,” by the French composer Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) was written in 1881. It begins with an immediately commanding Allegro movement which forms a delightful conversation among the instruments, with parallel and juxtaposed melodic lines in grand sweeping rhythms. No one instrument dominates in the scoring, with generously shared themes complexly developed in a great drive.

This is followed by a slow Andante having a nice contrast between the violin and cello, proceeding from an initially darker to lighter ambience as it unfolded, culminating in a well constructed ending.

The third section, Presto leggiero, had a faster pace, with imaginative rhythms and dramatic cascades of notes in the piano part combined with great textures among the three instruments.

The final movement, Allegro molto agitato, had a particularly beautiful melody with wonderful harmonizations and some deliciously dark, resonant cello passages. Altogether this trio is a marvelously integrated and intimate piece of chamber music, given a powerful performance with fine ensemble effect. And it makes us stop to reflect of what we have lost in the spiritual and creative development of our species because of the suppression of women, over one-half of humanity, for thousands of years.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a contemporary of Chaminade, and his symphonic masterpiece, “La Mer,” written in 1905, well illustrates his life-long love of the ocean and the strongly visual elements of his music, which gives his works (and those of other French composers of the period) a clear correspondence to the Impressionist movement in painting. But “La Mer” is not specifically programmatic, for it allows to imagine our own visions of what the music evokes. Originally scored for orchestra, this version for a piano trio is an excellent transcription by the modern English composer Sally Beamish (b.1956).

Starting slowly in the lower registers, it built to higher octaves in an uplifting shift in mood, with a fine cello section. The subsequent parts had a floating quality, Debussy extracting so much feeling from his exquisite melodies.

Following this, the drama of an ocean storm is suggested in the agitated bowing of the strings, with rising tensions, scored “anlmé et tumultueux”, then subsiding into a triumphant ending, all the players showing the highest levels of precision in their interpretation of this music, transporting us to another world.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) was an Argentine composer who drew on the popular music of his native country, namely the tango, which follows similar trends enriching classical music in the 19th and 20th Centuries, through the influences of Eastern European folk traditions and Afro-American jazz. The tango is a very aggressive dance created by people of African descent (formerly slaves) in which male/female elements are expressed in intricately coordinated movements. Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” (written 1965-70) commences with summer, the violinist imitating the scratchy sound of cicadas by bowing on the wrong side of the bridge of the violin, then jumping into a lively melody in tango tempos, then easing to reflect the slower, laid-back ambience of the tropics.

“Autumn” had some rich cello moments and then more raucous driving tango rhythms, in which Piazzolla was clearly having fun in his scoring.

“Winter” initially had a dominant piano part with great harmonic chords, almost nostalgic in feeling, the strings combining in quick changes in tempo as the themes were further developed.

The last movement, “Spring,” has the pianist slapping hands on the piano above the keys for percussive textures, evolving into a more scherzo tango pace with an accelerating momentum to the end, all with a technical exuberance and musicality that earned the Neave Trio a well-deserved lengthy standing ovation from the audience.

T he next concert in Summer Music from Greensboro’s summer series will be on Tuesday evening, August 9, when SMfG will present the chamber music group “Frisson” at 7:30 p.m. at Fellowship Hall at the United Church of Christ.