The Claremont Trio’s (Emily Bruskin, violin; Julia Bruskin, cello; and Sophiko Simsive, piano) all-19th-century program at the Gardner on Sunday afternoon started with two splendid works by women composers. The German composer Emilie Meyer (1812 – 1883) spent most of her time in Berlin, but also traveled to Vienna where she likely encountered Brahms. She wrote a largely unknown body of romantic orchestral and chamber works. The prolific French composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade has never quite disappeared from the canon.
Meyer’s Piano Trio in B Minor, Op. 16, in the mode of Mendelssohn and Schumann, begins with an energetic Allegro do molto e con brio. The Claremonts showcased the works nice balance among the three instruments, the interpretation came across with richly varied dynamics, color and accurate rhythms. Strings and piano alternated by playing the melody and accompaniment (with pizzicato in the case of the strings). In the second movement, poco Adagio, the strings played simple but beautiful melodies with a single gorgeous voice; the violin’s cadenza-like solo gave us something memorable.
In the third movement Scherzo. Allegro Assai, the instruments tossed the melody among each other before a strong fortissimo close. .The fourth movement Finale, Allegro suggested the famous theme of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and notably the violin lived up to a demanding section. Overall, the piece was not very distinctive, but contained pleasant melodies.
Cécile Chaminade, born into a family of musicians, created her own sound world in her Piano Trio No. 1 in G Minor, though it was certainly clear that she had absorbed Dvořák, Schubert, Saint-Saëns, and Fauré. Her later worked veered more into the direction of salon music. In the first movement Allegro the trio intoned romantic melodies similar to Dvořák’s American quartet before finishing with a grandiose ending. The Andante second movement finds the cello and violin alternating with the slow waltz melodies. In the Presto third movement, the pianist articulations sounded particularly distinct. The closing Allegro molto, began attacca with the piano, and the strings joined in an artistically free but coherent manner before finishing with a stretta.
Brahms wrote his Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, when he was only 20 years of age, and the Bruskin sisters mentioned that they had played the piece even before their 20th birthdays. An interesting factoid: Apparently Isabella Stewart Gardner and Brahms had tea together in Bad Ischl (Austria) in 1894.
The first movement began with a characteristically Brahmsian theme in the cello and piano and increased in intensity. It included various thematic elements, which the trio filled with dynamic and bright versus dark sound-color contrasts. One of the themes they then took up in the recapitulation forms the basis for a fugue. In the coda, they build tension from the main, slower theme to a climactic, fortissimo conclusion.
In the second movement, the trio combined the delicate jumpy staccato scherzo passages with passionate fortissimo outbursts. They re-ignited the exuberant mood of the first movement in the trio section, keeping the mounting tension with remarkable articulation throughout the piece.
The players opened the third movement with a broad, translucent chordal theme in the piano, counterpoised by a middle section in which the cello played a chromatic melody. The second theme quoted Schubert’s “Am Meer,” as did an Allegro at the end. The trio shoed impressive mastery of the slow tempo through consistent bow control for the strings.
The fourth movement, with a very agitated dotted rhythm almost mirrors the first movement and sounded complex like a combination of three solo concertos all at once (whereby it is noted that Brahms unfortunately didn’t compose a cello concerto). The second theme seemingly alludes to Beethoven’s “Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder” from An die ferne Geliebte, and a vigorous arpeggiated piano theme. After an episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music ended very turbulently.
Throughout the enthusiastic concert, the strings maintained impeccable intonation, and the pianist showed enviable dexterity.
We enjoyed this virtuosic homecoming concert for the trio, and hopefully they will return soon!