Review: Montrose Trio

Montrose Trio
Letter V

Feb. 18, Virginia Commonwealth University
By Clarke Bustard

In the latest Rennolds Chamber Concerts program at VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, the Montrose Trio gave one of the finest chamber-music performances in  recent Richmond seasons in a delectable if debatable interpretation of an early masterpiece by Brahms.

The Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 8, is an early masterpiece that was substantially reworked in middle age, Brahms in his 50s reining in some of the excesses of Brahms in his 20s. But only some: The revised trio is still the expressively volatile work of a young composer, venting the same passions, with the same kinds of musical mood swings, as he did in his early piano sonatas.

The Montrose – pianist Jon Kimura Parker and two alumni of the now-retired Tokyo String Quartet, violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith – treated this moderated Brahms to further moderation.

Like many musicians today, they read the composer’s tempo markings as carrying the unwritten addendum “but slower,” turning allegro con brio into a pace more like allegro ma non troppo, adagio more like largo. They planed off rough edges, smoothed transitions, tamed outbursts.

They did all this as beautifully as it could be done. Individual playing was as close to faultless as you’ll ever hear in a live performance. Instruments sounded in perfect balance. Parker pulled off one of the toughest feats in chamber music, rendering Brahms’ piano part with clarity and robust tone but without overpowering string sound. Greensmith summoned lyrical warmth and projective impact from a cello that has the woodsy, soft sonority of a period instrument, yet held his own alongside Beaver’s markedly more brilliant-sounding violin.

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