Maverick Concerts has recently started offering “Prelude Concerts” before some of its Sunday afternoon programs. On August 12, the pianist of Trio Solisti, Jon Klibonoff, played half an hour of Debussy, Book 1 of Images and four Preludes from Book 1. I don’t think I’ve heard Klibonoff as a soloist since a rather un-stylish ragtime concert at another venue, years ago. I might not have expected him to be a colorful enough soloist for Debussy, but he certainly was. He produced the non-percussive, “no hammers” style of the best Debussy pianists, and played with imagination and relaxation. “Mouvement,” which concludes the Images, was particularly beautiful. And he didn’t miss the humor in “La sérénade interrompue.”
The programming for the trio portion of this concert was not to my personal taste. I haven’t heard Chausson’s Trio in G minor, Op. 3 in years, but I remember being thoroughly bored with it in the past. The performance by Trio Solisti was so powerful and vivid that it successfully disguised the derivative, melodramatic nature of the music, which sounds like half an hour of second-hand Franck to me. Even the cute tune which begins the finale leads soon to unconvincing melodrama. But the performers, with their wide dynamics and rushing energy, caused suspension of my disbelief in the music through most of its duration. It was also fun to listen to Klibonoff, playing full out with the piano lid open, and waiting to hear when he would drown out his colleagues (violinist Maria Bachmann and cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach). He never did.
After many years of exposure to the music of Philip Glass, I remain completely baffled by this composer’s appeal. I’ve heard his 20-minute Violin Sonata before, at the same venue played by the same musicians. It still sounds like 20 minutes of accompaniment figures in search of a melody, or actors on a stage saying nothing but “blah blah blah.” Presumably Bachmann and Klibonoff play the music as the composer intended, since he wrote it for them, and they obviously believe it has some worthwhile content. Sorry, I don’t.
But I’m even more bothered by John Cage’s notorious 4’33, which we’ve now heard three times at Maverick Concerts over the past decade. It was first “performed” there in 1952, which Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt obviously takes as a point of pride. For me it’s the opposite, a point of shame, a major milestone in the creation of “conceptual” music which may be fun for its creators to think about but offers little of worth to listeners. This piece offers literally nothing, since the pianist sits at the keyboard without playing.
Only Klibonoff actually showed up on stage for this charade, but there was no reason why the other two players couldn’t have joined him. Cage said the piece could be un-performed by any soloist or ensemble, and could go on for any length of time. In search of his original inspiration, supposedly the sounds of the woods surrounding the Maverick hall, I sat in the outdoor section for the second half of the program. All I got to hear during the Cage were the whistling sound of my own tinnitus and occasional truck traffic.
At last, once this nonsense was over, we got a masterpiece, Ravel’s Trio in A Minor. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad performance of this difficult and demanding work. It’s almost as though the performers are self-selecting, like those who choose to play Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, another piece I’ve never heard done poorly.
Still, I’ve heard some versions of this piece that were better than others, and this one was among the best. All of the players were completely on top of Ravel’s great technical demands, and their ensemble was flawless. They played with power and subtlety in equal measures, and the Passacaille was uncommonly emotional. Whatever my complaints about the selections on the program might have been, at least the conclusion sent me away in an excellent mood.