Sunday, September 1, 2019

String Trio Discoveries at Sunset Music and Arts

Jean Cras, the composer featured on last night’s program (photographer unknown, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Last night at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Sunset Music and Arts presented the string trio of violinist Karsten Windt, violist Deanna Badizadegan, and cellist Angela Lee. The ensemble itself did not have a name; and, on the basis of the biographical statements, there is a good chance that Windt brought together his two colleagues explicitly to present the highly imaginative program he conceived. It is probably the case that for most of the audience, Sibelius was the only familiar composer on the program; and he was represented by the only movement (Lento) that he completed when working on a three-movement string trio between 1893 and 1894.

The program began with music by Thomas Lupo the elder, a viol player during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The trio played two of the 24 fantasias in three parts for viol consort, realized through performance on contemporary instruments. The real “find” on the program, however, was a string trio by Jean Cras, who spent the better part of his life as a naval officer but then went on to pursue a highly productive career as a composer.

The program concluded with a four-movement string trio that Cras composed during the years 1926 and 1927. This particular work was singled out for discussion on his Wikipedia page, citing the influences of his native Brittany as well as sources from African and Eastern sources that he would have encountered during his naval career. Thus the trio itself serves a bit as a travelogue, but it also reveals Cras’ solid command of conventional structural forms. Both texturally and rhetorically, one can also detect influences of Maurice Ravel (including his early string quartet), although Wikipedia does not cite this connection.

Windt provided an excellent verbal introduction to this composition; and all of the “thematic signposts” he discussed were realized with first-rate clarity by the trio as a whole. His approach to introducing the Sibelius selection was equally informative, including the suggestion that the waltz of the middle section may have been a post hoc reflection on the composer’s “Valse triste.” Indeed, my only quibble with Windt’s presentation of introductory material was his failure to mention the viol origins of Lupo’s music. However, while the instruments were modern, the players’ sense of intonation seemed to be guided by the pre-Classical sonorities of natural harmonics, particularly in Lupo’s attention to perfect fifths.

The program itself was relatively brief. To be fair, however, there is only so much novelty that mind can accommodate in a single sitting. Thus, regardless of duration, this was a highly satisfying journey of discovery.

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