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Trio Brillante returns to Noontime Concerts™

Poster design for today's concert showing Betty Woo (background), Emily Onderdonk (left), and Tom Rose (right)
Poster design for today's concert showing Betty Woo (background), Emily Onderdonk (left), and Tom Rose (right)
courtesy of Noontime Concerts™

A little less than a year ago, Trio Brillante gave their last recital in the Noontime Concerts™ series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”) at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral. This featured founder and clarinetist Tom Rose, pianist Betty Woo, and Emily Onderdonk replacing founding violist Caroline Lee. The group returned to Old St. Mary’s this afternoon, and the ensemble has not changed since its last appearance.

In at least one respect this concert provided a fascinating follow-up to the program offered last year. The 2013 concert presented the opening movement of Carl Reineke’s Opus 264 trio, composed just before his 80th birthday in 1903. This time Trio Brillante concluded their program with the first movement from the Opus 274 trio, composed two years later in 1905. (For the record Reinecke composed over 280 works.) Those familiar with chamber music for this particular instrumentation would probably have detected traces of Robert Schumann (such as the Opus 132 “Märchenerzählungen,” which Trio Brillante had performed when Lee was their violist) in this particular movement. This would not be surprising, since Reinecke was a former pupil of Schumann; and, as a performer of chamber music, he probably took interest in Schumann’s compositions in this genre.

The most unusual composition on the program was “Moldovanke,” a klezmer arrangement by San Francisco composer (and Music Librarian of the San Francisco Ballet) Matthew Naughtin. Based on his portfolio, Naughtin seems to have two major interests, music for children and music based on different cultures. He thus approached the Yiddishkeit of klezmer as an outsider, unlike, for example, Paul Schoenfield, much of whose chamber music has blossomed from his personal Jewish roots. However, if Naughtin’s music owed more to ethnological observation, rather than personal experience, today’s performance summoned of all of the qualities necessary to make the informed listener kvell; and this listener will certainly be happy if Trio Brillante keeps this piece in their repertoire.

The program began by revisiting one of the compositions performed during Lee’s tenure, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 498 (“Kegelstatt”) trio in E-flat major. I have always taken this to be one of Mozart’s most good-natured compositions; and I am beginning to feel that there are no end to the opportunities to listen to it in this city, where it seems as if every clarinetist takes a crack at it sooner or later. Today’s performance definitely honored those good-natured spirits, making the introduction to the entire program a highly inviting experience.

For this recital Trio Brillante had time to offer an encore. This turned out to be another arrangement and a rather unlikely one at that. They performed their version of the “Sabre Dance” from Aram Khachaturian’s four-act ballet Gayane. This is music associated more often with circus bands than with a ballet pit orchestra (although Jascha Heifetz made an arrangement for his own encore purposes). The Trio Brillante version was, as might be expected, a bit short on the crash-bang sonorities; but it still emerged as a rather faithful account of the folk-based themes around which the score was built.