Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas
Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
ALBANY 1386 (57:02)
I tell you, some of these modern trios strike the strangest poses. On the front cover of this CD, cellist Ida Mercer is
standing barefoot, hands on hips, bent over completely from the waist so that her hair hangs down towards the floor, while violinist Carla Tweed is standing on a chair
instrument. Even if these are their post-concert positions in which they take bows, and not their performing stance, it’s something you need to get used to. (Oh, and did I not mention that pianist Robert Cassidy, sitting between the two women, is also barefoot? I suppose he never uses the pedals of his instrument!)
All kidding aside (and I’d sincerely hope the front cover of this disc
a joke), the Almeda Trio, formed in 2008 (this is their debut disc), is an excellent chamber group and the music herein is fascinating. Moreover, a portion from each disc sold will be donated to The Music Settlement music education program and to Cleveland State University. Good for them.
commissioned by the trio in 2010, is a fairly interesting piece using a jazz beat in the 12/8 second movement, titled “Soul Stuff,” though probably no improvisation. The first movement is described as being a Piazzolla-inspired tango and the third based on country fiddle music (though to my ears the rhythm is also strongly jazz-based and not fiddle-music-based), thus the suite is more a collection of pieces only slightly related, though the notes tell us that “elements of the first two movements appear in different guises in the third.”
After the whirlwind romp of Ferguson’s last movement, Astor Piazzolla’s
Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
sounds almost conventional, but to my ears the Almeda Trio still gives this music a “jazz kick” in places that makes it sound more swinging than I’m used to in his music. Yet the Almeda Trio can, and does, play the more lyrical sections of this suite with a finely drawn cantilena that caresses the melodic material with superb style and grace—note, particularly, the last movement, which rolls through the mind like gentle ocean waves.
Even wilder than the first two compositions is Paul Schoenfield’s 1987 piece,
commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Blending such diverse musical styles as jazz, ragtime, and klezmer, Schoenfield drew his inspiration from a gig he once held at Murphy’s Steakhouse in St. Paul, intending to write, as he put it, “high-class dinner music which might
barely find its way into a concert hall.” Well, let me tell you—this piece has more of a jazz kick than the myriad “phony” ragtime-jazz pieces you hear on
Prairie Home Companion.
Not so much from pianist Cassidy who, though very good, doesn’t really kick the rhythm any more than Rich Dworsky does on Garrison Keillor’s weekly radio show, but I tell you, the ladies here really get it. Their playing is consistently edgy, pushing the beat (often just a hair ahead of it, the way good ragtime and jazz should be played), and they know how to contrast these portions of the score with the more classically composed passages, such as the violin-cello passage in the midst of the first movement, then return to the jazz “kick” for the remainder of it. The central movement, which the notes indicate is based on a Hassidic melody, is beautifully limned by Cassidy, then by the strings, in a way that suggests the kind of “slow drag” feel of ragtime (think, for instance, of Scott Joplin’s
if that piece is in your memory banks). A nice, subtly executed key change in the middle raises the pitch and makes one feel elated for reasons that are difficult to explain but can be felt. In the last movement, Schoenfield pulls out all the stops: sharply struck chords by strings and piano lead to an irregular rhythm played by the latter while the former skitter around him. Despite the almost manic uptempo and strong rhythmic accents, however, the music here is actually more in the vein of fast classical music with stride piano accents (think of the faster portions of
Rhapsody in Blue
) than of “real” jazz, but Schoenfield’s inventive thematic treatment and often-shifting rhythms keep the listener (and, I would think, the performers) always alert to the myriad changes therein. Joshua Rifkin, move over! You’ve met your match! A heck of a debut disc, let me tell you. This is a disc that will kick butt when you want something to up your mood!
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Café Music by Paul Schoenfield
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1986; USA
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