Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Village Road Trio Brings its Eclecticism to Old First Concerts

Readers may recall the enthusiastic account of the Village Road Trio when it gave a one-hour concert at the end of last November at the Hotel Rex as part of the Salons series offered by San Francisco Performances. The group was formed in 2012 by violinist and composer Alisa Rose when she joined forces with accordionist and composer Rob Reich and bassist Daniel Fabricant for a performance at the Russian Consulate. Since that time they have built up an eclectic repertoire that assembles a wide variety of musical communities in a single program.

Last night the group presented a full-evening program in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Presbyterian Church. The original announcement cited an impressive list of composers from both the classical and jazz worlds. Instead, much of the program was devoted to Reich’s original pieces and several by Rose.

Still, one of the most impressive offerings of the evening came with a performance of Béla Bartók’s first rhapsody, composed for violin with accompaniment versions for both piano and orchestra. The entire trio collaborated on arranging Bartók’s score for its unique instrumentation. As might be expected, Rose carried most (but not all) of the solo violin work, while the accompaniment was distributed between accordion and bass. The result reflected the origins of the thematic material in the ethnomusicological field work collections amassed by Bartók and his colleague Zoltán Kodály; but the result served up a vivid rhetoric of the immediacy of a here-and-now concert performance.

Similarly imaginative repurposing was applied to two selections by Sergei Prokofiev. Rose prepared an arrangement of the march interlude from the Opus 33 opera The Love for Three Oranges, presumably using Jascha Heifetz’ arrangement for violin and piano as a point of departure. This was followed by Reich’s arrangement of the third (gavotte) movement from the Opus 25 (first, “Classical”) symphony in D major. Both of these arrangements captured the underlying rhetoric of wit and reflected the precept that any group of skilled musicians can take on just about any piece of music and, given sufficient dedicated effort, do justice to it.

Nevertheless, the major attraction of the evening was in the original compositions. Rose’s offerings were fewer but certainly no less expressive. Her “Wistful Waltz” turned out of be a thoroughly engaging take on a repeated bass line that could easily claim distant kinship with the bass line for Johann Pachelbel’s famous (notorious?) canon in D major. She also took the encore slot with her “Texas Spaghetti” (composed during a long wait at the Austin airport), which was one of the delights of the Rex Salon.

Reich, on the other hand, has cultivated a keen sense of impressionism, which is usually expressed through a lyrical rhetoric. Whether or not his “Hidden Stairway” was intended as an homage to the eccentricities of Winchester House and its dark legacy, both the off-beat thematic content and its expressive delivery were thoroughly engaging. Several of his pieces, such as “Cloud Forest” and “Redwood Music Part 1,” were clearly inspired by natural settings. However, as is the case in the “depictions” by Claude Debussy, these settings were points of departure, rather than “objects of reproduction;” and they were structured around just the right durational lengths to make for absorbing listening.

Taken as a whole, this is a repertoire that seems to straddle deliberately the space between classical and jazz; but its footing could not be more secure, so to speak, meaning that this “second contact” with the group was as delightful as the first.

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