The Prima Trio is a rare ensemble, consisting of three mighty talented musicians on piano, clarinet and violin/viola. The fact that Prima is an unusual combination made its appearance on the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg’s Tuesday program in the Williamsburg Library Theatre all the more interesting and engaging.
It’s refreshing to hear groups that are not of the more-often-featured string ensemble genre. Formed 14 years ago while students at Oberlin, the Russian-bred musicians have forged a solid ensemble that has won all sorts of important prizes and worldwide playing engagements.
Featured were pianist Anastasia Dedik, viola/violinist Gulia Gurevich and clarinetist Pavel Vinnitsky (substituting for Boris Allakhverdyan). Each is a superb musician with impressive stand-alone credentials; collectively they are outstanding.
The graceful playing, balance between the instruments and the symbiotic nature of presentation made for a more than a musically enhanced experience. It made magic. The program’s high appeal came from the colorful application of sound achieved by the three instruments and the works chosen to showcase the sound.
Little has been written for this grouping which made Prima all the more compelling and engaging. Too often in ensembles such as all strings or strings and piano, sounds can become too familiar and predictable, nurturing a sense of sameness to the overall impact. With Prima, the sound surprises were endless and certainly not predictable.
The evening opened with Mozart’s delightful Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano in E-flat Major, which was joyful and jolly, easily displaying Mozart’s ability for concise composition, style and, here, humor. More emotionally insightful was Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. Bruch desired the pieces not be played at one sitting but in excerpts. Thus, Prima presented three, starting with an Andante, this side of wistful with rich colors, an Allegro con Moto featuring cascading piano lines playing out against or with emotionally lyrical lines, and a sprightly Allegro.
More exotic was Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, the basic text of which was influenced by his family’s Armenian roots, as well as folk elements from the likes of Turkey, Poland and Iran. With sounds that seemed more melancholic, with folk-type embellishments and spurts of energy, the work was inviting and very interesting.
Milhaud’s Suite for Clarinet, Viola and Piano was a delightful trip into a slightly jazz-infused world, a trend found in many of his works. Milhaud ran with the big guys known as “Les Six” whose style broke against the heavier modes or Wagner and Strauss and lush lines. This piece was proof of that direction. It’s flowing, easy going, syncopated and lyrical with an overall sense of joy and serenity, as well as a bit of giddy back and forth between the violin and clarinet, creating an arc of feelings that closed on the dreamy side.
By far the evening’s fun piece was the closing “Klezmer’s Wedding.” Written by Srul Irving Glick, who incorporated Hebraic flavors into many of his works, “Klezmer” starts slowly picking up speed and spirit along the way before evolving into a full fledged celebration of unbridled emotion. Notable was Vinnitsky’s input. It fell to him to craft the zany klezmer feel with playing that required him to cast aside strict adherence to all things expected of a player of his esteem (currently with New York Philharmonic) and go happily astray.
With obvious glee he embraced note bending, using glissando type effects to create what’s been called a “laughing clarinet.” Ain’t easy to do. It brought smiles (and tapping feet) throughout this winning number that again showed each to be virtuoso players with a sense of humor.
For an encore, this tip top trio regaled us with Prima-Allakhverdyan’s beautiful arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s soothing “Oblivion.”
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."