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A Singular Threesome

New York
BargeMusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn
01/14/2011 -  
Carson Cooman: Lamentoso for Trumpet and Piano – Lyric Trio for Trumpet, Cello, and Piano
Brian Fennelly: Corollary III
Eric Ewazen: Variations on a theme of Brahms
Lukas Foss: Capriccio for Cello and Piano

Chris Gekker (Trumpet), Evelyn Elsing (Cello), Rita Sloan (Piano)

C. Gekker, R. Sloan (© Herring Rollmop)

A chamber ensemble of trumpet, cello and piano is probably a first, though Baroque trumpet sonatas with basso continuo are common enough. But when those instruments played an endearing six-movement work by the young Boston composer, Carson Coonan, the novelty factor quickly vanished.

In fact, this was one of the only two works in a challenging program which honestly met the rule of music being actually interesting. The challenge was to make the tender loving dark tenor cello strings meld with the sharper, brassy (obviously) tones of the trumpet. Mr. Coonan didn’t need to force the issue, since all six movements of his Lyric Trio–influenced by the atmosphere of Nantucket Island–were inventive.

Playing in near-unison with the piano in the opening, the colors themselves were interesting. A dance tune with cello and trumpet changing sides in the simple harmony was delightfully playful. And finally, the slow brilliant last movement, based on a funerary poem by Jane Kenyon, was as tender and touching as any music could be.

(Wisely, if the composer had been searching for a final poem, he opted not to use the more familiar limerick about Nantucket, which lacks…shall we say…gravitas?)
The three instrumentalists all have connections with the University of Maryland School of Music, but they also have strong international reputations. Putting them together as part of BargeMusic’s “Here and Now” celebration was an unusual idea, but musically a substantial one.

I had only heard trumpeter Chris Gekker on his website, where his playing of Bach’s Second Brandenburg on a piccolo trumpet is stunning. Nothing approaching Bach was heard last night, but he made the best of some works written for him. The first, also by Carson Coonan was called Lamentoso, but it consciously had the fervent energy of an Irish wake. More notable than Mr. Gekker was the atonal virtuoso playing of Rita Sloan, who was on each of the six works.

Composer Brian Fennelly introduced his own Corollary III, taken from a longer work, written for Mr. Gekker. It was a clever bit of legerdemain, three contiguous notes developed with fine technique, a good vehicle for the trumpeter, if not the audience.

Mr. Gekker’s other solo work was more unusual for its consonance than its originality. Eric Ewazen wrote his Variations and Fugue on a theme of Brahms for Mr. Gekker, taking the autumnal Intermezzo from Opus 117. While Brahms was an admirer of Robbie Burns, this was perhaps the first time that his music inspired an Irish jig. The rest of the variations were moderate, old-fashioned (one was thinking of Leroy Anderson or Malcolm Arnold) and easy listening.

E. Elsing (© Coco. T. Dawg)

Evelyn Elsing’s cello-playing was very beautiful in the Lyric Trio, but for the Capriccio by the late Lucas Foss, she and Ms. Sloan turned ornery.

This was an American hoedown, pure and simple. Except for a few measures, it was pure Western dance in rhythm, jumpiness and frank, unpretentious fun. Like André Previn, Lukas Foss came from Germany and embraced America with neither inhibition or misgivings. Such a delicious little piece was emblematic of “here and now” music with its roots deep in American soil.

Harry Rolnick



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