Triad makes Saturday's concert a triumph

  • Jul 16, 2007
By Terry McQuilkin For The Register-Guard Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2007 The penultimate concert in this year's Oregon Bach Festival was something of a homecoming, at least for one member of the trio that delivered an engaging program of Ludwig van Beethoven, Francis Poulenc and Johannes Brahms at the Hult's Soreng Theatre on Saturday evening. Eugene native son Carey Bell, along with cellist Emil Miland and pianist Bryndon Hassman, all based in the San Francisco Bay Area and collectively named Triad, brought to a close the festival's Intimate Evenings series with a radiant account of one of the great pieces of Romantic era chamber music. Without a doubt, the crowning masterpiece in the repertoire for clarinet, cello and piano is Brahms' Trio in A Minor, Op. 114. Written in 1891, the work would not have come into existence had it not been for the impression that German clarinetist Richard Mahlfeld made on Brahms, who literally had retired from composing. (The piece was the first of four chamber works, including a quintet and two sonatas, he wrote with Mahlfeld in mind.) The work opens with a rising melodic figure in the cello, and the luminescence and ardor with which Miland delivered the unaccompanied line set the mood for a reading that was full of passion, but never over-romanticized. The cellist, who seemed to enjoy every note, produced a glowing sound, shaping each melodic line artfully. Bell proved himself a clarinetist of extraordinary agility, and his command of the instrument is such that the listener becomes oblivious to any technical challenges in playing the music. Although his tone doesn't have the dark, woody timbre of some players, his sound was perfectly suited to Saturday's performance. Hassman, who evoked from the Steinway piano a warm and rich sound that never was overbearing, was an empathetic collaborator. He shaped his melodic lines with great expressiveness, always at the service of the collective good. Indeed, each of the three players seemed to have a sixth sense of what his colleagues were thinking. What emerged was a performance with perfect balances, rhythmic precision and unanimity of expression. Before intermission, Bell and Hassman delivered Poulenc's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, another work arriving late in its creator's career. Sudden shifts of mood, abrupt dynamic changes and jumps in register characterize the outer movements of the 1962 work. Bell was very much in his element here: He delivered the composer's quirky, fragmented melodic gestures with flair, without letting the music sound flippant. The clarinetist, who recently was appointed to the principal chair of the San Francisco Symphony, demonstrated astonishing control at all dynamic levels. But he proved especially impressive at the softest levels, where the sound seemed to float in the air, particularly in the slow Romanza movement. Hassman proved a sensitive and effective partner, also successfully capturing the work's oft-changing moods. He is a pianist who makes poetry out of a brief musical gesture or a series of accompanying chords. While he managed to keep his sound under the clarinetist's (the piano lid was down throughout the evening), he played with convincing force when necessary. The trio opened the program with Beethoven's cheerful Trio in B-flat, Op. 11. Unlike the other two works on the program, Opus 11 is a youthful product, and we might as well admit that it's not top-tier Beethoven. Still, the work sports an good-natured insouciance, and the three delivered an ebullient and energized reading. Bell's tone was too bright - on high notes, at least, for my taste - but I had to admired his surefire accuracy and finesse. Indeed, the three members of Triad brought to their playing an extraordinary level of individual artistry and collective sense of purpose. We hope they return soon.