Eroica Trio serves up gleaming performances of Dvorak and Cassado

By Alan Becker

Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor remains one of his most celebrated chamber works. Titled the “Dumky,” because of its use of several Dumka—-folksongs alternating happy, sad, fast and slow passages—it became a very personal statement through the Czech composer’s retooling of populist material. While performed frequently, in the hands of sympathetic players the Dumky Trio never fails to sound freshly minted.

The Eroica Trio was fully convincing in its lively, moving performance of Dvorak’s trio on a rare Saturday night event for Sunday Afternoons of Music, playing to a nearly full house at Gusman Concert Hall. The Eroica members effectively handled the contrasting moods and tempo shifts and succeeded in giving an improvisatory feeling to the four movements, with judicious use of string portamento (sliding between notes) for expressive effect. The large audience did, however, have trouble recognizing the proper time for applause amongst all of Dvorak’s varied tempo changes.

Gaspard Cassado was a noted Spanish cellist and student of Pablo Casals. Less known is his activities as a composer.  His melodic Piano Trio in G minor is a rich amalgam of Spanish nationalism and Impressionism, in the vein of Granados and Turina, leavened with a touch of de Falla and Ravel. Both strings are required to perform glissandi and play at the extremes of range and volume (up to a sextuple forte). These modernisms clearly place it in its 1926 period, yet add color and excitement to a work of lush textures and vibrant, at times, acidic bite.

Pianist Erika Nickrenz made the most of her opportunities for virtuosic display, and the unison string playing of violinist Susie Park and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio was remarkable in its refinement and accuracy. As one would expect, the cello role is prominent, and was richly projected by Sant’Ambrogio, but Park’s clear, incisive violin playing made fine impact as well.

Less successful was the famous Adagio attributed to Albinoni, thoroughly milked in a most un-Baroque fashion in the Eroica’s own arrangement, while still making for an attractive sound.

Unfortunately, the Porgy and Bess Fantasy, an arrangement by Kenji Bunch, proved less effective than the plethora of many transcriptions of tunes from Gershwin’s opera. In keeping with the fantasy concept, Bunch has freely reworked some of Gershwin’s ideas, and the Eroica was not adverse to using overdone slides as they swooned and crooned in “down and dirty” manner. If taste sometimes went astray in this selection, the Dvorak and Cassado more than made amends for any musical indiscretions.

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Sun Feb 7, 2010
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