Trio Karenine offers impressive performance

Trio Karenine is one of those up and coming ensembles that is creating buzz in the wide world of chamber music and the ensemble chosen to kick off the new year offerings by the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg.

Tuesday’s performance in the Williamsburg Library Theatre illustrated the high-quality artistry of this young piano-violin-cello ensemble.

Formed 10 years ago, the group’s credentials extend beyond its ensemble acclaim to include notable solo appearances and collaborations among its members with other important musical organizations.

As the focal point of much of the fare and the base for the works heard, pianist Paloma Kouider was magnificent. Her artistic, virtuoso keyboard command was impressive and mighty. Violinist Fanny Robilliard, playing on a 17th century Amati instrument, displayed a notably sweet sound and solid technique. And cellist Louis Rodde, who founded Karenine, delivered a very full-bodied sound and likewise fine technique.

The program was rich in melody, harmony and emotion — the Debussy Piano Trio in G Major, Schumann Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor and Ravel Piano Trio in A Minor.

The G Major, an early work by Debussy, shows signs of the luxurious harmonies and sounds of his later, more recognizable works. It is a charming, mostly sunny work of flowing melodies, directness of design, and easy appeal. Its many moments of sweeping and varied emotions and an all together gentleness of feeling were creatively crafted among the three, allowing an ebb and flow of emotion.

While the G Major was evidence of Debussy’s desire to flee the impact of Germanic music, the Schumann was evidence of what he was fleeing.

The D Minor wastes no time in establishing highly romantic style and ambivalent emotions. From the first measure, it signals rich, dark textures. Lyrical, with emotional highs and lows throughout, the D Minor is considered the most appealing of his three such compositions. His proclivity toward the piano shows clearly here with is dominant position, a showing superbly handled by Kouider. While there is an overall dark quality to much of it, the second movement is upbeat, maybe even sunny in disposition — a mild romp that leads into a melancholic movement of intense, deep feelings. Suggestive of Schumann’s shifting emotional states, the finale is bright, energetic and positive, with bits of turbulence tossed into the mix. At the Karenine’s doing, the results were targeted and fine.

Moving beyond Schumann’s romanticism was Ravel, who favored fresh, new sounds. Often called impressionistic, it‘s a work that brings to mind dreamy, shimmering images. It’s also a work that provides its players many opportunities to display brilliant, virtuoso style skills. Moving from the flowing lyricism of the opening to the playful, string pizzicatos and gentle keyboard glissandos of the second to the sustained, almost funereal passacaglia in the third and the quasi-symphonic burst of sunshine in the finale, the Ravel was richly rewarding and probably showcased the trio’s best collective efforts.

For as swell as was the trio’s playing, there was an issue with balance that popped up throughout.

At times, the violin was overshadowed individually by the cello or piano or by both or its playing so sensitively done that solo-type sounds were barely audible. Such was not the case with the cello, which was pretty prominent all evening. As for the piano, things were well metered and as artistically balanced as possible. Perhaps the trio didn’t have enough time to sort out the acoustics of the hall and adjust prior to the concert.

It’s admirable to want to offer the most interpretative playing possible, but when parts, at times, can’t be heard or are out of balance, it serves neither the composer nor the listener.

This aside, the Karenine’s performance was a sure sign of growing stature. The overall impact was impressive and well received by the audience.

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for more than 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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