Ghostly and Mysterious: The Martinez Urioste Brey Trio

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Martinez-Urioste-Brey Trio
Gabriela Martinez, Carter Brey, Elena Urioste

Opening Concert of the Twenty-Second Season of Tannery Pond, Sunday 3PM, May 27, 2012
Gabriela Martinez piano, Elena Urioste violin, Carter Brey cello

Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Trio in D major, Opus 70, No. 1 (“Ghost”)
            Allegro vivace e con brio
            Largo assai ed espressivo

Paul Schoenfield
Café Music (1986)
            Allegro con fuoco
            Andante moderato

Maurice Ravel

Trio in A minor
            Pantoum : Assez vif
            Passacaille: Très large
            Final: Animé


This program that opened the twenty-second season for the Tannery Pond Concerts was something of an unholy trinity. It was easy to get an anxious sense of alienation in hearing Beethoven’s quintessentially Romantic and supernaturally imbued work followed by Schoenfield’s rollicking yet also phantasmagoric ragtime; Ravel’s rarified sonorities at the end acted as a divine sublimation of sorts. Not everyone was pleased with this programming. At intermission, several audience members commented how they felt Schoenfield’s Café Music was the afternoon’s sore thumb. Having been caught up in the ragtime revival of the 1960s and 1970s myself, I welcomed the piece, having succumbed to its charms in the past decade. Café Music is Schoenfield’s best known work enjoying wide exposure: Sirius XM programs it regularly and several fine recordings are available on both CD and in the iTunes library. Diehard chamber music enthusiasts might regard it as an unneeded “crossover” for a musically sophisticated audience. While its placement might have not have been ideal within the current program’s context, I was delighted by the change of musical idiom.

Each member of the Martinez-Urioste-Brey trio is a virtuoso in his or her own right. Carter Brey is quite accustomed to blending in an ensemble as he has been Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic for a decade and a half. From the outset, one noted a very different chamber style which emphasized instrumental autonomy rather than an imposed “lead and follow” ensemble. Their transparency serviced the afternoon’s particular selections quite well.  I am not sure how this group’s spezzati style would fare with Schubert or Mozart, but it gave the “Ghost” an edgier and more disembodied feel than usual. While the “Ghost” moniker comes from the eerie second movement, I felt a chill all the way through, even in the first movement when the piano octaves of the second theme, for example, crept along like a incorporeal apparition. The ominous quality of the exposition was gently resolved with Mr. Brey’s sweet delivery in the recapitulation. Both Mr. Brey and Ms. Urioste’s playing demonstrate a delicate tone, which was never thick, gestured or aggressive. One might fault them as being less than vigorous. In contrast, Ms. Martinez was the driving force with her muscular and impelling sweep. The melodramatic Largo assai ed espressivo, purportedly from the composer’s sketches from his aborted Macbeth, is full of sighs, tremolos, but the chiaroscuro dynamics are reminiscent more of Caspar David Friedrich’s drawings than of Shakespeare’s tragedy. It was up to the piano to give us the shivers and tingles, and Martinez shimmering treble and fluttering bass delivered the needed extremities of range to complete Beethoven’s miniature Wolf’s Glen scene. As Ms. Martinez’s bass line sank into a gurgling pot of shakes and trills, Ms. Urioste’s warm and supple line melded with Mr. Brey’s plaintive and affective tone, moving in parallel motion. For me, it was the most compelling and convincing ensemble work of the afternoon. The coda in the final movement offered one more menacing touch, and with it, the work ended.

Schoenfield’s Cafe Music comes from the world borne of the “black and white” fusion ragtime revival of the 1960s, spearheaded by composers William Bolcom, William Albright, and Donald Ashwander, among others. Bolcom, a composer of wide stylistic breadth, was both evangelical virtuoso and progenitor of this revival which has obviously preoccupied Mr. Schoenfield for a few decades. The masterful Café Music blends traditional classic forms with a sexy, harmonically scintillating and rhythmically gripping idiom. The first movement was the most entertaining and musically engaging, while during the wild third movement I imagined an encounter of Dmitri Shostakovich and Knuckles O’Toole.

Ravel’s Trio is a work in which the composer attempts to synthesize diverse compositional styles and structures. Its great achievement is to sail magically through uncharted modernist waters, while simultaneously immersing itself in the distant musical past. How could one project the prosodic form of the Pantoum, a poetic shuffling of lines in a series of quatrains, into the formal trappings of a classical scherzo or minuet ABA form? Ravel’s structural transposition is more suggestive than literal, but it makes ones experience the music’s formal expectations quite differently. The Passacaille, in the canon of the baroque works of Buxtehude or Bach, and later revived by composers such as Brahms and Reger, invariably builds a sonic cathedral from a simple bass line reiterating one harmonic progression.  Here, no less true to the form, Ravel’s treatment is one of understatement with soft diaphanous layers, suggesting, at times, Debussy’s soft murmurings in his Jimbo’s Lullaby. Ravel, who like Debussy, distanced himself aesthetically from German tradition and altered our expectations of a ground bass variation as a teleological experience. Furthermore, exoticism lurks beside classical constraints in the Basque motives and rhythms of the opening Modéré. A work that lives as much by suggestion and nuance as it does by a classic structure presents great interpretive challenge. Here, as in the first part of the program, Ms. Urioste and Mr. Brey exhibited refinement and clarity, while Ms. Martinez gave us the more assertive structure on which the ensemble hinged. In the last movement, amid gossamer passages in the strings, Ms. Martinez was spectacular in the thunderous tour de force that Ravel conjured.

This opening concert was an admirable kickoff to another season of concerts at Tannery Pond where one is treated to the finest recitalists in a hall with near-perfect acoustics. The Martinez-Urioste-Brey Trio is a newly formed group, barely a year old. While the group’s name is inextricably linked to the current performers, and, perhaps well chosen for search engine purposes, I hope they might opt for a moniker that would be as memorable as any fine performance would be.

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