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CHAMBER REVIEW
Trio Navarro / Sunday, February 28, 2010
Roy Malan, violin; Jill Rachuy Brindel, cello; Kumarin Arul, piano

Roy Malan and Kumaran Arul

TRIO NAVARRO WITHOUT THE O

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 28, 2010

In a sharp change from past concerts, the Trio Navarro gave an abbreviated program Feb. 28 in Sonoma State University’s Ives Hall, reflecting a temporary substitution in personnel. Marilyn Thompson, the Trio’s founding pianist, was absent due to pending shoulder surgery, and the anticipated trios of Cassadó and Catoire could not be managed in the available rehearsal time. What was presented was a blend of some familiar works and something quite rare.

Joining violinist Roy Malan and cellist Jill Rachuy Brindell was Stanford University faculty artist Kumaran Arul. Mr. Arul is no stranger to Sonoma County, having played recently on the Absolute Music Series. More importantly, he paired with Mr. Malan at last summer’s Mendocino Music Festival in the Dvorak Sonatina and the Grieg C Minor Sonata. These works, with Ms. Brindell acting as page turner, constituted the first half.

Once called a “student work,” the G Major Sonatina, Op. 100, reflects American Indian and African-American influences from the Czech composer’s 1893 stay in Spillville, Iowa. The opening had the requisite joy and Dvorak phrasing, and the following Larghetto was a lovely lyrical lament with Mr. Arul’s control of pianissimo faultless and Mr. Malan’s double stops precise. The third movement, seemingly a village dance, found the two instruments in “question and answer” phrasing, with the piano often covering the violin. The final Allegro was a rollicking dance with syncopated rhythms, bursting with themes unique to Dvorak. The lyrical middle part was reminiscent of Hollywood movie scores, ending with the violin secure at the top of its register.

Grieg’s great Violin Sonata, Op. 45, is a stern test for musicians. The Sonoma State performance was similar to the reading of last July, the main theme appearing as a lovely duo. A few notes were changed by Mr. Arul during his first statement of the grand theme, but the balances were good, and the coda was powerful and thrilling. The Romanza second movement is one of the composer’s most inspired creations, and Mr. Malan was totally at home in the lyricism. He played the descending passage at the end with wide vibrato, then an ascending phrase which leads up to an E natural, two octaves above the open E string. Here, unlike the performance on the Coast, he took almost no vibrato, as a harmonic. The audience was in breathless silence.

Mr. Malan dug deep in the finale, taking the downward second theme quite slowly to a rich tenor area with a wide vibrato. Here the piano covered much of the string sound, not stemming from any lack of effective pianism but presumably due to the room’s acoustics and linoleum tile floor surface. The ending had great impact and a complete unity of artistry.

Praise for the Grieg aside, the musical highlight for this reviewer was five of Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Piano and Two Instruments. The two instruments have included the violin, viola, clarinet and cello, and of course here Ms. Brindell joined Mr. Malan and Mr. Arul in a cogent and committed performance. Three of the pieces are lyrical, but in a somber and sad way, songful but tending towards nostalgia. Even the third work, at a fast tempo, had the same compositional nature. The addition of the rich cello line, always forward in Ives Hall, blended well with the piano. The fourth was an individual favorite, Mr. Malan’s violin singing phrases in a high register over handfuls of arpeggios from the piano, and ultimately unison cello and violin lines combining beautifully.

The Bruch doesn’t allow easy identification. There are short bits of Brahms, but the language is different enough to defy a tie-in with another composer. I would enjoy hearing the complete set in whatever form the Trio Navarro chooses.