Monument Piano Trio in fine form at An die Musik
One of the musical pleasures in Baltimore over the past five years or so has been the appearance and steady growth of the Monument Piano Trio. I thought early on that this group had the potential to enjoy a career well beyond the city. I still do, especially after Sunday night's concert at An die Musik, where the trio has artists-in-residence standing.
Violinist Igor Yuzefovich (assistant concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra), cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski (the BSO's assistant principal cellist), and pianist Michael Sheppard enjoy an obvious musical rapport. The lovely, refined phrasing they produced in the delicate slow movement of Beethoven's G major Trio (Op. 1, No., 2) was one example of how sensitively the players listen to and respond to each other. In the more rambunctious portions of that work, Sheppard encountered an occasionally cloudy measure, but he and his colleagues offered plenty of impressive playing. Same for the rest of the program, which ventured into much rarer territory.
Max Bruch is today known primarily for a handful of pieces for violin (or cello) and orchestra. His C minor Piano Trio doesn't enjoy much attention at all, but the Monument group made a strong case for it, tapping deeply into the music's lyrical groove. Rodion Shchedrin's Three Funny Pieces from 1997 actually can justify the "funny" tag, particularly the one called Let's Play an Opera by Rossini, which boils down Rossini's trademark devices into a manic few minutes, and the music hall kick of the Humoresque. The performers brought out the often quirky coloring of Shchedrin's writing with aplomb.
Sheppard has been writing a transcription for piano trio of Brahms' Symphony No. 2. The world may not need such a transcription, and there may be more than enough repertoire written expressly for piano trio to keep any ensemble busy for a long, long time. But I'm partial to transcriptions (I can't help myself from seeking out solo piano arrangements of things like Elgar, Bruckner and Mahler symphonies), so I'd hardly question Sheppard's decision to reduce Brahms to violin, cello and piano. Next season, the complete transcription will be performed; on Sunday, the second movement was unveiled as a teaser.
Some of the original material doesn't translate ideally (the darkest harmonies can't help but sound thin when paired down from orchestral strength), but Sheppard has skillfully and faithfully honored Brahms. And the performance had considerable warmth and character, just as you would expect from the Monument Piano Trio.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MONUMENT PIANO TRIO (from left: Igor Yuzefovich, Dariusz Skoraczewski, Michael Sheppard)