Richardson — The opening concert of Richardson-based Chamber Music International's 30th season, presented in the sanctuary of Richardson's St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church, demonstrated once again why Joyce Yang, silver medalist in the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, also won the competition's DeGroote Memorial Award for Best Performance of Chamber Music.
The season opener featured Yang alongside two high-ranking New York Philharmonic musicians, the orchestra's Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples and Principal Cellist Carter Brey. Their program of piano trios featured two household names, Mozart and Brahms, flanking the less-familiar Joaquin Turina, a Spanish composer whose works deserve more exposure.
More precisely, the program began with Mozart's Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502. Composed in 1786, it is not exactly a late work, but it is one that shows some of the proto-romantic traits that fans of, say, the Rondo in A minor (K. 511), adore. This most restrained of the three works on the program gave Staples, Yang and Brey perhaps the widest range of opportunities to show off—not technical virtuosity, but—their mastery of one of the primary challenges of the genre: management of a shifting focus of attention. When Staples was in focus, Yang and Brey knew how far to recede; when Bray and Staples were in focus together, Yang didn't just back off—she helped train the focus on them. The combinations are too many to go through here, but these three extraordinary musicians exhibited all of them to perfection.
Turina's Piano Trio in B minor provided the three with opportunities to show off some other skills, such as Yang's occasional threats to overpower the other two, attempts that she pushed to the very brink before backing off in such a way that made the ensuing near-silence seem even louder than her fortissimo. And as difficult to follow as the last movement of this work may be, the seemingly effortless blend that Staples and Bray achieved made it easy to care less about the difficulty and just be swept along.
Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, his Op. 8, is both an early work and late work, at least in the form we have come to know it. Composed in 1855, Brahms revised it considerably in 1889. One feature that he retained in the revision was the (theoretically, at least) odd ending: the composition, having been declared "in B major," both by its title and by its opening hymnlike theme, ends in B minor. Attentive listeners might have thought they were on their way to a mid-finale switch from minor to major, like the one Brahms pulls in the finale of his third symphony. But the Op. 8 trio offers no such switch, the final movement resolutely maintaining the minor mode to the end. Saturday night's performance, however, gave the work what may be the most positive, upbeat, happy minor key finish ever heard.
The program will be repeated on Sunday, Sept. 13 in Dallas City Performance Hall. The very different acoustics of that venue will undoubtedly shed different light on these three works and on the three musicians. Envy the few that get to hear both performances.
Saturday's concert also featured a performance that will not be repeated on Sunday, that of this year's CMI Young Artist Grand Prize Solo Winner: cellist Emily Chung. She performed a well-known work, Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, in an unfamiliar form, with the orchestra part arranged for piano. Some works suffer under this kind of treatment, and there's rarely any point to second-guessing a composer, but Chung may have convinced her audience that they were finally hearing the work the way it was meant to be heard. What is sometimes heard as a competition—maybe even a fight—between orchestra and cello became, on this occasion, the showcase it should always have been, and a showcase for a young talent with an almost astonishing range of expression and technique. Sunday's audience will be denied this treat, sorry to say.