The Claremont Trio’s current pianist being expectant and medically advised not to travel, the group’s strings asked the ensemble’s original pianist and co-founder to return for Sunday afternoon’s second installment of its Brahms project at the Gardner. It made for ever so slightly rough and ready musicmaking in spots, but overall a decidedly satisfactory Romantic experience, with Brahms’s C-minor Trio Opus 101 (1886, the composer 53) followed by the 30-year-old Schubert’s E-flat Trio D.929, from 59 years earlier. A performance of the scheduled commissioned work (one per Claremont concert is the pattern) was scrapped.
Twins Emily and Julia Bruskin are the real deal on violin and cello, exact of technique and lovely of intonation. Together they may lack some of the suavity, elegance, and profoundly experienced engagement—artistry, that almost meaningless word—of older masters in this repertory, but no matter. Sub pianist Donna Kwong similarly may swap polish and probing for a certain on-with-it vigor. Tempos were generally fast, or at least always unleisurely, and the Brahms opening was so loud and energico it practically exploded off the stage and into audience laps. Some though not all of this is due to the floor level of Calderwood Hall, where all is close and bright.
The Globe’s David Weininger recently offered nice descriptors of the Brahms Opus 87 Piano Trio: “…spaciousness, natural ebb and flow, … broad-shouldered melodies ….” The later, last piano trio is not that: it features Brahms in his condensed, packed, learned-from-Beethoven mode (including key and minimalist motifs), to the same degree that Opus 8, drafted young and finalized decades later, is capacious with early sorrows revisited. Opus 101 builds on a few essential figures, spare note seed, creating a drama that grows full with prods and lunges, storm and stress; the Claremont met those challenges with not only strikingly high output but also a certain seat-of-the-pants vibe. It worked, though one might not want to live with it.
Schubert’s marvelous Trio in E-flat Major, quickly composed with a pronounced spilling-over feel even for him, really does unspool at heavenly lengths. It sounds rather public and presentational for what we now call ‘late Schubert’. The again fast Claremont performance showed more ensemble, and Kwong had settled in: her right hand in the last movement was outstandingly fleet and supple, fluid at tempo, unerring. I’m not sure those rippling upper-treble passages can be played any better. (It always makes me wonder about the characterizations of the composer, including by himself, as a middling pianist: bloody unlikely to my way of thinking.) Some but not all of the improvement in blend resulted from my relocation to the Calderwood’s fourth level. The mingling of ideas into this piece’s long and wide tapestry of rue and smile is Schubert’s doing, of course, and this sensitive Claremont performance would be worth reauditioning, its lack of deepest savor aside. I asked my chamber novice date how she liked Schubert’s ached reweaving of the famous Andante’s song into the last movement, with lachrymose harmonic modulations that at the same time beam, and she could only smile and nod.