The Rockport Chamber Music Festival welcomed the Boston Trio to the stunning Shalin Liu Performance Cente on Sunday. Violinist Irina Muresanu, cellist Denise Djokic, and pianist Heng-Jin Park, each already established as highly accomplished soloists in Boston, form quite a power-trio. Their trio has also been established as a highly active ensemble for over 15 years, and it shows. With a program featuring two established masterpieces by Schumann and Brahms (alongside a fairly recent work by living composer John Musto), the concert had surely generated high expectations from Rockport’s patrons. Muresanu, Djokic, and Park did not disappoint. With a tremendous display of musicianship and acute attention to detail, the performance Sunday evening marked what will undoubtedly be considered one of the high points of this year’s festival. Fantasy Pieces for piano trio, op. 88 is a landmark piece in Robert Schumann’s compositional career, laying some of the important groundwork for ideas about form for the Romantic generation. For Schumann, the concept of the fantasy itself was, at least in part, a philosophical rejection of conventional forms of musical structure and development. Beethoven, and Mozart before him each had their own unique ways of exploring the idea of fantasy, but for Schumann, the fertile ground for the imaginative composing in fantasy pieces is profoundly linked to theater. The players of the Boston Trio showed an innate understanding of this; the dramatic dialogue between the cello and violin throughout the piece was artfully heightened by Muresanu and Djokic, who performed with wit, character, and immense breadth of affect. Throughout the quirky exchanges in the Humoreske and the lyricism of the Duett, the players’ interchanges were not only musical, but also deeply poetic. And although in this piece (much unlike the Brahms) the piano is often consigned the role of mediator, Park’s musicianship also shined through brilliantly.
John Musto’s Piano Trio was full of exciting music, and very much exploited the technical virtuosity of the ensemble. Divided into two movements, both leaning towards perpetual motion and an animated rhythmic surface, the piece made use of a very diverse (and very satisfying) harmonic language. The composer notes the influence of blues and jazz. Though, the quasi-improvisational nature of much of the melodic material transcended traditional jazz constructions, and also stayed well clear of abandoning control of consonance and dissonance. There is a great deal of compositional craft here at work, along with the idiomatic and engaging instrumental writing coming from a seasoned pianist. The performers interpreted the work with exuberance, and navigated Musto’s acrobatic passages with sparkling confidence. In particular the piece provided Irina Muresanu with some exceptional moments to shine, which (as always) she did. The only things holding the piece back were a few rather unmotivated (and sometimes underprepared) repetitions of music. Perhaps it was the placement in between two immense paragons of musical form that drew my ear to these somewhat capricious recapitulations, but such are the occupational hazards of having your piece wedged between Schumann and Brahms. Nevertheless, Musto’s Piano Trio held its own, was performed brilliantly, and provided a new and unquestionable worthwhile listening experience to the Rockport audience. Brahms’s Piano Trio in C Major, op. 87 presented a wonderful contrast to the Schumann. Brahms uses the piano trio as a fundamentally different instrument: a more amorphous unit that is more often a single entity than a configuration of independent characters. Where Schumann’s fantasies explore distant musical ideas over through-composed stream of thought, Brahms fills the established compositional structures with such a wealth of thematic interconnectivity that they transcend their formal prototypes (i.e. sonata form, and theme and variations), and become something that is entirely the composers’ own. The variations of the Andante con moto were particularly beautiful, lead with sensitivity and considerable emotion by pianist Heng-Jin Park. Djokic’s precision and vigor in the Scherzo also deserve note. The Boston Trio was exceptionally successful in bringing this piece to life and keeping the listener engaged with meaningful interaction and deep interpretation, which was received with a standing ovation. The group returned to the stage a for an encore, Astor Piazzola’s “Primavera” from the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. It was a lovely choice: short, exciting, and flashy. Artistic Director (and pianist of note) David Deveau joined the stage as page-turner (a charmingly humble gesture that payed some restitution for a stillborn Father’s Day quip during his introduction of the ensemble at the beginning of the concert). The concert, all in all, was a resounding success. The Rockport Chamber Music Festival continues to feature concerts with world renowned musicians through July 14th. For more info on the programming, visit www.rockportmusic.org.