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Ellipsis Trio Searches, Satisfies


Arthur Foote ca. 19190 Alice Boughton photo (Harvard Musical Association Collection)
Arthur Foote ca. 19190 Alice Boughton photo (Harvard Musical Association Collection)

Ellipsis Trio brought a Beethoven cello sonata, an Arthur Foote trio, and the premiere of a work written for Ellipsis by the late William Thomas McKinley to Killian Hall on the campus of MIT on Saturday night. My guess is that most at this inviting concert were probably not, if at all, familiar with the works programmed, never mind the music of local composer McKinley. That, in and of itself, could make for a satisfying musical outing.

That is only one of several reasons I have continued to follow this fairly new trio, which started up in early 2013. It was the summer of 2014 when first I encountered them—in a “refreshing and remarkable” excursion with Dvořák and Ravel.

Newness, if you will, went further still when the group moved to Killian, presumably in the hunt for a more welcoming venue. The living room size of the place appeared just right with the very nice turnout comfortably seated. The room’s acoustics also seemed suitable, allowing every note to be heard loud and clear. While sometimes the going got too loud, that was not particularly due to the room.

Another shift involved that of the pianist. Ellipsis followers had come to know Konstantinos Papadakis as the Trio’s pianist from the very outset. So it was a surprise last night to see Constantine Finehouse, who is becoming increasingly well-known to Boston audiences, at the Steinway concert grand for this outing.

A program note for Beethoven’s mature Sonata for Piano and Cello No. 4, in C Major Op. 102 No. 1 set us off in the right direction. Eftychia Papanikolaou, Associate Professor of Music at Bowling Green State University (Ohio), related a comment made by a contemporary of Beethoven about his late music: “It is so original that no one can understand it on first hearing.”

Five tempos compacted into two movements would indeed keep even today’s listener on the alert. Patrick Owen committed the lyrical and tender moments in both Andantes and the Adagio with touching sensitivity, at times with wisps of the bow, at times with a warm, vocalized-like vibrato. In the two Allegros, Finehouse found security in strongly pointed power sweeps and dominating accents. Overall, the two played more as strangers, the cellist phrasing one way, the pianist another. When they did match, ears lit up.

Such a joy it was next to meet up live with Trio No. 2 in B-flat Major from Boston Second School composer Arthur Foote. I came to this piece with the same sense as Papanikolaou, who wrote that this Trio would “recall a French ethos representative of Gabriel Faure’s chamber music.” With Ellipsis, French-American ebullience shot through the score as shooting stars intermittently flash through a pellucid sky.

Amanda Wang’s violin looked upon Foote’s loveable melodicism with exact remove coupled with delectable tone, truly a high spot of the evening.

As to the bigger picture, ebullience would drift into loudness, volume overtaking feeling. Or, those moments might be described as resolute, that early German influence on Foote coming to the fore.

Patrick Owen took to a few words in introducing William Thomas McKinley’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano in 5 movements. When Owen arrived to give McKinley a ride, the composer got in the car and “dumped the score in my lap, saying, ‘This is for you’.”

Constantine Finehouse (file photo)
Constantine Finehouse (file photo)

McKinley’s approach involved highly attractive opening moves acting as “ritornellos” that in turn provided grounding for an array of intervening tangents, often emulating jazz and blues.

Ellipsis showered the 36-minute richly eclectic work with un-diluted devotion, heaping lifeblood through and through upon the mysterious atmospheres of “distant land,” the off accents of “here’s the beat,” the hushed piano oscillations with suspended strings in “silk,” the dance allusions in “Tango Sonata,” and in-a-hurry rhythms of a metropolis in “Downtown Walk.”

Ellipsis’s world premiere of the work completed just before McKinley’s death in 2015 stopped the show, drawing sincere reaction from the intent listeners from enthusiastic applause to random vocalizations of approval.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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