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Choral and Vocal
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CHAMBER REVIEW
Music at Oakmont / Thursday, October 20, 2016
Trio Valtorna. Ida Kavafian, violin; David Jolley, horn; Gilles Vonsattel, piano

Violinist Ida Kavafian

TRIO VALTORNA'S JAUNTY EXPLORATIONS AT OAKMONT CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 20, 2016

New York’s Trio Valtorna came to Music at Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium stage Oct. 20 with three disparate works, and in two of them instrumental sonic continuity was not a main goal.

But it was in the second half’s seminal piece, Brahms’ E-Flat Major Trio (Op. 40) for horn, violin and piano, that brought the audience of 150 and violinist Ida Kavafian, hornist David Jolley and pianist Gilles Yonsattel most happily together. The opening Andante was played with special emphasis on the varied return (three times) to the luscious main theme, and the intricate balancing of the five harmonic keys. It was never a strongly dramatic reading but more svelte and lyrical, even in the second climax. The lively Scherzo was fiery and reminded me of the fast sections of the composer’s C Minor Piano Quartet. Controlled velocity.

Brahms’ haunting Adagio was given a slow and moving interpretation, bass heavy at times, and Ms. Kavafian’s exposed accuracy of pitch was perfection. Mr. Jolley came to the fore in the Allegro finale with judicious quick note runs and subtle short crescendos and decrescendos. One the whole the performance favored ensemble and lyricism over sustained drama.

Ending the first half was a performance of Ravel’s G Major Violin Sonata, played by Ms. Kavafian from score with warm pianism from Mr. Vonsattel. But it’s not a “warm” piece, and the composition from 1927 has lots of stylistic contradictions. Here Ms. Kavafian was in no hurry to get anywhere and used in the opening Allegretto moderate vibrato and a chaste, sunny bottom sound. Mr. Vonsattel’s touch was everywhere adroit. The ending played off seconds with a long held note in the violin with the piano softly following. Beguiling and convincing.

The bluesy Moderato was played in a light march of broken rhythms with jaunty violin pizzicatos and various jazzy inflections and offbeat accents. It’s difficult to bring out the careless “swing” of Ravel’s polytonalities but both musicians seemed to have an intuitive connection with the jazz idiom.

Fine duo playing continued into the Perpetuum Mobile finale with Mr. Vonstattel playing powerfully sharp sound “jabs” and the exploration of a little music from the preceding movements. It was athletic playing at a quick pace that highlighted Ravel’s free rein of cascading ideas and juxtaposition of instrumental texture.

John Harbison’s 1985 Twilight Music for Horn, Violin and Piano opened the program following Mr. Jolley’s remarks regarding the piece, and an odd reference to Brahms’ ensemble with the same instruments. Ms. Kavafian’s violin line was often at the top of its register, and the piece abounds in frantic horn and piano phrases and fragmentary, insistent and jumpy rhythms. The playing was always capable but the lasting effect of the music on the Berger audience was in doubt, and the Harrison work past without much notice.

For me the most memorable part of “Twilight” was near the end when the Valtorna slowed the pace in a major key with unison violin and horn lines, creating a clean and mellow sound absent from most of the 18-minute composition.