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Neave Piano Trio Amazes

Music review
Sat Sep 29th, 2018

From left: Anna Williams, Eri Nakamura, Mikhail Veselov

The second in the 2018 Leaf Peepers concert series drew a near- capacity audience at Saint James Place in Great Barrington to hear the acclaimed Neave Trio this past Saturday evening. The acoustics in this gracious concert space (a reconverted church) present superior resonance wherein each note can be clearly heard.

While the late-September foliage is still keeping us in anticipatory suspense over what the annual show of colors will bring this year, the music freely unfolded to delight and surprise throughout the concert.  The applause was roaringly sincere with some calls of “bravo” for good measure.

The Neave Trio came together in 2010, and creating a musically exciting collaboration, attracting enthusiastic acclaim from critics. The Neave Trio is comprised of violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura. (A recent interview with Veselov can be found here.)

Saturday’s concert drew selections from four centuries, leading off with the earliest, an 18th-century Piano Trio in D Major, composed in 1790 by Josef Haydn who wrote over 50 piano trios. One of his later pieces influenced by Mozart, the Neave performance brought their heightened, characteristic expressiveness, as more than equal to the task of underscoring Haydn’s chameleon earnestness and whimsical humor that is embedded in the piece: the sudden halt, the progress of romance quickly switching over to a social event, the violin disagreeing with the piano, while the cello regards both violin and piano as having lost their place, or minds, or both. Yet, of course, it was the Eri Nakamura on piano who had the authoritative last “word” on everything.

In keeping with their interest in promoting the work of gifted currently-living composers, “Another Chance,” this concert offering the World Premiere. Trumbore presented an evocative contrast to Haydn. A West-coast based widely-performed composer, this piece gave the Trio an opportunity to immerse themselves in an arc of emotion from emotionally distraught, dissonant break-up at the opening to the realization that life goes on and the ego reconstructs lament into joyful observations. There was an edgy economy to  the piece which created some new sounds not heard before.

In celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s life and career, next came a piano trio Bernstein wrote in 1937 when he was nineteen. It was a multicolored quilt: a Debussy-like run on the piano was challenged by an Appalachian folk tune on violin (think fiddle) and a Rachmaninov-like glide and hop across the keys was accompanied by a Shenandoah hoedown. Mozart was a jazz changeling. A future seed for the musical On the Town peeked out. But the magic trickster piano found its grounding the resonant cello of Mikhail Veselov who played with robust resonance.

After intermission, the Neave Trio reached back into the 19th century to find Piano Trio in C Major, written by Johannes Brahms (1882). The mix of lightness and darkness in the work brought one’s mind back to Trumbore’s piece and like Trumbore’s piece it was intensely dense in texture as it traveled a spectrum of moods. Anna Williams was stunningly arresting on her 1794 Gagliano violin, as Veselov on cello kept in tandem at a lower register: it was as if the violin and cello were a married couple conversing with a friend, the piano. The Trio played with intimate unity.

For encore, they played the Spring movement from Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (1965-70). In this effervescent work all three players were able to cut loose with small comic runs from slippery glissando runs across the keyboard to spirited tango rhythms on violin and even pesky insect sounds on cello. After the cryptic high-seriousness of the Brahms, this was a joyous shout to Nature that concluded with a spontaneous thunderstorm.

The audience warmly demanded two long bows. If you missed this concert, you can find some of their recordings on the Chandos label, but a live concert is the real thing.

The next Leaf Peer Concert will feature The Amernet Quartet with Eugenia Zukerman on October 13 at acoustically impressive Saint James Place.