Violinist Madalyn Parnas and cellist Cicely Parnas have been performing as Duo Parnas for more than six years, although both are still in their early twenties. For their Maverick Concerts debut Sunday, they brought along an old friend, violist Tim Kantor, a member of the Afiara Quartet in Toronto. Their program was highly varied, and the three musicians played like a long-established ensemble. They’re not, though; this was their first public performance as a trio.
The program began with the last of Beethoven’s String Trios: Op. 9, No. 3, in C Minor. Although it predates any of Beethoven’s String Quartets, this is still characteristic early Beethoven at his best, music with surprising power for a string trio. The first thing I noticed about the playing was its excellent balance and ensemble. These musicians were listening to each other and making sure they made a unified impression. The opening Allegro con spirito, unfortunately lacking its exposition repeat, was fervent and exciting. Sforzandi in the Scherzo were knife-edge sharp and startling, and the final Presto was indeed swift. My only reservation was that Madalyn Parnas’s tone occasionally took on a shrill edge, noticeable but not strong or frequent enough to be disturbing.
I’m sure that Andrew Norman’s The Companion Guide to Rome was a great challenge to the performers, and they seemed to be enjoying its non-standard methods of tone production and other originalities. I found it an intermittently interesting assemblage of sound effects and gimmicks that haven’t been welded into satisfying music, and it goes on much too long (just under half an hour). The composer supposedly wrote these pieces while traveling around Rome, inspired by the sights of nine churches. It did come across to me as a sketchbook, only the last of the nine sections really working for these ears. The trick of having the violist in one section and the violinist in another play from the sides of the stage didn’t seem to make any sonic difference at all, but with the violinist facing away from the audience it did give us a chance to admire Madalyn Parnas’s spectacular blonde hair.
We were back to familiar ground with Dohnányi’s Serenade in C, a delightful updating of the classical serenade form in mild romantic style. The players showed versatility in adapting their approach to this music, even warming up their tonal production. The opening march was snappy, the finale gratifyingly mellow, and the playing had real charm throughout. Even with one work on the program that didn’t succeed for me, this was still a very enjoyable concert.