Notes and Editorial Reviews
The subtitle "Cubist Blues" succinctly pinpoints what Joel Hoffman's first piano trio sounds like. "Blues" refers to its melodic shapes, churning rhythms, and overall phraseology, from the thrashing gestures up front, the urbane modern jazz midway, and concluding episodes of soft, dented Gershwin. So what does the composer consider "cubist"? Probably the music's jagged rhythmic shapes, such as the final section's loud repeated-note blues licks alternating with billowy piano chords, plus the "deliberate wrong note" dissonances with which many composers hold their lyrical gifts at arm's length. Although a few stylistic seams show (Hoffman employs canonic devices out of cleverness rather than need), the
music's sense of contrast and organic flow help sustain interest over its uninterrupted 22-minute span.
In Trio No. 2, technique and expression impressively fuse as Hoffman's own style solidifies. Snatches of melody over long pedal-points open the work, and rapidly cut to the chase where short, abrasive phrases alternately collide and fuse. Sparse, stepwise melodic fragments evoke the sounds and silences of late Shostakovich.
In contrast to this terse, well-proportioned work, the larger, more ambitious three-movement Trio on C-sharp sometimes goes on too long for what it has to say, although it abounds in creative, beautiful moments. For example, the first movement evolves out of phrases that suddenly stop and reiterate with slight variations in texture, register, and pitch. However, this main idea seems to play itself out, like a one-trick pony. The middle movement is slow, lyrical, and hauntingly sustained, although when faster note values and polyrhythms kick in halfway, the effect is more of textural padding than emotional build. Out of the third and longest movement's cavalcade of ideas, I'm especially fond of the spacious coda, where lush piano chords spread out across long-held string notes. We only can hope that the Karp Trio's passionate, committed performances will inspire other piano trios to investigate such meaty, engaging works by an American composer of substance who ought to be better known.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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