Montrose & Shiffman: Gravitas, Badinage, Panache

Montrose Trio
The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Rockport Chamber Music Festival presented a fairly new piano trio consisting of three longstanding musical heavyweights as its third act. The Montrose Trio, comprising pianist Jon Kimura Parker, violinist Martin Beaver, and cellist Clive Greensmith, formed in 2013 upon the cessation of the Tokyo String Quartet’s long run.  Beaver and Greensmith had been its first violinist and cellist. Parker, a frequent collaborator with the quartet, took up the opportunity to continue the association in a different idiom. For its Rockport debut, the threesome came up with one less-heard work set alongside two Romantic repertory standards, one of which called on the assistance of Shiffman as violist.

The outlier, Joaquin Turina’s 1933 Trio No. 2 in B Minor, op. 76 bears many traces of his student days in Paris, notably an amalgamation of Franck and Ravel with an unmistakable Spanish flavor. In three fairly short movements, it offered appetizing tapas before a much heavier meal. The Montrose cultivates a robust, intense sound, but can dial it back, as in the fleet-footed scherzo featuring Beaver’s bravura tremolo muted passages. The finale is somewhat more substantial, in an episodic French structural way, with Parker’s heavy octave passages lending gravitas.

Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 2 in C Minor, op. 66, from the fullness of Mendelssohn’s maturity in 1845, nevertheless stands somewhat in the shadow of his first trio, op. 49, written six years earlier, which arrived with phenomenal éclat and proved to be an enormously influential. Still, the substantial second trio forms a logical introduction to the Schumann trios that began coming out two years later. The first movement holds great interest for its intensity and motoric Bachian drive (and an intriguing resemblance to the finale of Brahms’s C Minor Piano Quartet, of which more later). Parker brilliantly negotiated the propulsive passagework, while Greensmith’s solos on the inevitably lyrical second subject were full of early-Romantic ardor. Adumbrations of Brahms continued in the coda. The slow movement inhabits the world of the Songs Without Words, but with a Schubertian pang, rendered by the players with paramount sweetness and pathos. The scherzo, a paradigmatically elfin bit of Mendelssohniana, is perhaps not quite as infectious as its counterpart in the First Trio, but such a movement never fails to please. In its one slight miscue, the Montrose could have subtracted some weight from the trio (that is, the B) section. The finale is a true harbinger of Schumann, held in check by Mendelssohn’s formal elegance and the unmistakable personality of its melodic content. The introduction of a chorale-like melody, reminiscent of the Old Hundred that is the usual tune for the Doxology, brings yet another foreshadowing of the Brahms C Minor Quartet, though with a different (and somewhat inscrutable) affect; it deepens and complicates the emotional range of the movement, which the Montrose executed with panache and grit.
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