Friends of Chamber Music
The Kavafian-Schub-Schifrin Trio

Date and Venue 17 November 2009 | Vancouver Playhouse

Reviewer David Powell

This group featured the combination of violin or viola, clarinet and piano, an unusual one for a chamber music ensemble. I often have mixed feelings when I go to something other than a string quartet concert at FCM. On the one hand, I feel that the string quartet is the most satisfying ensemble of them all, with the best repertoire, and nothing else is ever quite as good. On the other, since many, if not most, of the FCM concerts feature string quartets, I was pleased to hear something different.

The KSS Trio were magnificent. It's not how well they play as individuals but how well they play together that makes groups like this so outstanding. In particular I was so impressed at the unanimity of their phrasing and colour, not just beginning a phrase together, but letting phrases end, and notes fade, in unison - something that is more difficult to do, especially on three such disparate instruments.The program was a mixed experience for me. It began with an amiable but slightly dull Mozart trio (K. 498), whose only real point of interest lay in some interestingly dark harmonic turns in the Trio section of the Menuet and Trio movement. 

Next was Bela Bartok's Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. While less fraught with tension and anxiety than his string quartets, there was nonetheless a certain anguished quality about it, and it put my friend in mind of a Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. The work calls for the violinist to play on two violins (not at the same time!), one tuned the normal way and the other with the open strings, normally a perfect fifth apart, tuned to more dissonant intervals. This was a very arresting effect. The second violin, and Kavafian's viola in the Mozart, were supplied by Hermann Janzen, the Mission, B.C., instrument maker.

Stravinsky's Suite from L'Histoire du Soldat, his arrangement of his own work, came after the intermission. I enjoyed the second half much more than the first. The Stravinsky is playful music, and features a March and several dances: Tango, Waltz, Ragtime, and, finally, The Devil's Dance.  Its neo-classical simplicity was welcome after the Bartok. In fact, though closer in time to the Bartok, it seemed closer in spirit to the Mozart.

The Catwalk - Rag Suite by William Bolcom rounded off the program, and was the real delight of the evening. This suite is actually a grouping of rags by various composers, including Bolcom. These lovely pieces had whimsical names like Heliotrope Bouquet, Graceful Ghost Rag and Incinerator Rag. The one I liked best took the jovial ragtime rhythm and put it in a sweetly serious minor key, the charming result sounding like a mixture of Bach and Joplin.

© 2009 David Powell