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Chamber
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REVIEW

The Trio Navarro

ARENSKY TOPS RUSSIAN TROIKA

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trio Navarro, Sonoma State’s resident ensemble, played the second of their season’s four concerts on Nov. 9 in Ives Hall, juxtaposing three rarely heard works of disparate length and impact.

The concert began with Rachmaninoff’s early G Minor Trio (“Elegiaque”), composed in 1892, long before the more revered works in the composer’s canon. The composition received a full-throated reading, with proper references to the Tchaikovsky Trio of a decade earlier and a wonderful cello line from Jill Rachuy Brindel. As always, the acoustics of Ives 119 favor low frequencies, and diminish upper string warmth. Roy Malan seemed tentative with the violin part, deferring to his partners. The nostalgic and sad ending, with the main theme repeated and underscored by piano tremolos, was stretched out and lovely. The Elegiaque is a work not often heard, and it fades easily from memory.

Even less canonic than the Rachmaninoff are the Four Miniatures, Op. 18/24, by the Swiss/Russian composer Paul Juon. Oddly, each of the four movements has a different opus number. The Navarro played all of these well, especially the sensuous opening Reverie, with its hints of the second Arensky Trio. The violin and cello interplay here and in the ethereal Elegie Andante Cantabile were elegant outpourings of sound. The march-like second movement and the waltz-like finale paraded an extravagant piano part, performed with secure rhythms and clarity by Marilyn Thompson. The Miniatures were well worth hearing, but they also seem fated to slip from memory.

Quite another matter is the Arensky Trio in D Minor, Op. 32, which occupied the entire second half. I must confess a penchant for this work, beginning many years ago with a Los Angeles performance by Pennario, Heifetz and Piatigorsky. The trio can be played rather fast and secco as the Beaux Arts Trio does, or in the lush “leaning into the phrase” manner of the savory Borodin Trio recording. The Navarro adopted the quick-tempo approach, which is certainly legitimate but seems to lack the necessary languor. Thompson used many slight ritardandos at the ends of phrases, allowing some violin voice leading in the opening Allegro moderato to bring forth the noble theme.

The following Scherzo produced intriguing plucking string sounds and a swaggering middle section. Thompson pushed the tempos throughout, often bordering on raucous playing, and half-pedaled most of the runs. The celestial Adagio belongs to the cello, and Brindel’s bow control was exemplary, the arpeggios even and sweet. The unison cello-violin ending was transfixing, with the last chords reluctantly given to the piano.

The dramatic finale begins again with a nod towards Tchaikovsky, the cello introducing the theme and then giving it to the increasingly singing violin. This juxtaposition of drama and lyricism goes through three cycles, and then the big theme from the first movement surprisingly appears. Arensky seems to want to ensure the supremacy of the piano, and Thompson seized the moment and drove things into a heroic conclusion.

The Arensky trio is a formidable composition, and it was expertly played by the Navarro. For future programs, I vote for the arcane and Schumannesque second Arensky Trio, Op. 73.

The Navarro was in fine form and provided for 70 people a classical companion to the memorial music held in the adjacent Warren Auditorium for the late SSU faculty member, Mel Graves. Mention should be made of the upgraded printed programs, more colorful and informative than the vapid specimens distributed at previous years’ concerts.