Montrose Trio provides a season highlight in Chicago debut

Sat Apr 21, 2018 at 10:37 am

By Tim Sawyier

The Montrose Trio performed Friday night at Mandel Hall. Photo: Shayne Gray

The University of Chicago Presents’ Mandel Hall season came to a close in fine fashion Friday night with a stellar performance by the Montrose Trio in their Chicago debut. When the Tokyo Quartet disbanded in 2013, first violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith joined with longtime piano collaborator Jon Kimura Parker to form the Montrose Trio. The results were  exquisite Friday night, and future performances by the ensemble should not be missed.

The program opened with Joaquin Turina’s Piano Trio No. 2 in B minor, Op. 76. Turina was born in Seville, but studied with Vincent d’Indy in Paris, and his music strongly bears the marks of this national cross-pollination. The B Minor Trio’s opening movement abounds with subtle, Debussy-esque harmonic colorations, which the Montrose players deeply plumbed to create a rich soundscape. 

The work’s inventive Molto vivace bears the strong influence of Ravel, reminiscent of the second movement of the latter’s String Quartet in F Major. Frenetic skittering in the muted strings surrounded extended wandering piano lines, the Montrose players expertly inhabiting these contrasting roles. The sultry closing movement saw further fine playing with immaculate pitch and flawlessly unified note endings between Beaver and Greensmith. 

The program continued with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1. Here the musicians turned on a stylistic dime to inhabit the leaner sonic world of early Beethoven, a stark contrast to Turina’s pungent textures. The Allegro’s ubiquitous rising arpeggios were infectiously buoyant, and the first movement as a whole had an airy, expansive feel. Even here one gets the sense of Beethoven expanding the musical form in which he is working, but in the Montrose’s erudite reading one always had a sense of where one stood within Beethoven’s broad canvas.

Parker launched the Adagio cantabile with an eloquent solo statement, and the trio earnestly projected the deep lyricism of this music. The Scherzo had wit and sparkle, with forceful accents in proportion to the lighthearted mood. The fleet Finale—Presto sped along with ease without ever sounding facile, the Montrose members throwing off  the beguiling humor of this closing movement to great effect. 

The second half was devoted to Mendelssohn’s late, stormy Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 66. In the Allegro opening, the Montrose delivered on Mendelssohn’s tempo qualifiers—energetically and with fire. The roiling opening had a hypnotic quality, and the exquisitely beautiful second theme felt like one of the composer’s Songs Without Words. 

The slow movement of Mendelssohn’s Op. 66 also opens with a piano solo, and here again Parker’s playing was rarefied. The Andante espressivo as a whole felt like one continuous, spinning line, the Montrose players following every turn of Mendelssohn’s glowing progressions.

Mendelssohn completed his incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Op. 61) three years before penning the C Minor Trio, and the latter work’s Scherzo is in the same spirit as much of the former. The three players Friday night gave this movement an aptly fey, almost supernatural charm. The Finale, marked Allegro appassionato, went with idiomatic sturm und drang. The emergence of the chorale melody known to English listeners as “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” was a stirring moment, and its iteration in the coda brought the evening to an elevated close.

As part of its Contempo Series, UC Presents next hosts the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) 2 p.m. Sunday at the Logan Center. The program consists of six contemporary works inspired by nature: Pauline Oliveros’s Earth Ears, Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 3, Harrison Birtwistle’s Some Petals from my Twickenham Herbarium, Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Spell, and George Crumb’s Eleven Echoes of Autumn.


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