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An American Journey - Gershwin, O'connor, Bernstein / Eroica Trio


Release Date: 10/14/2008 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 07351   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Kenji BunchMark O'ConnorLeonard Bernstein
Performer:  Sara Sant'AmbrogioSusie ParkErika Nickrenz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eroica Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



Gershwin (arr. Bunch) Porgy and Bess: Fantasy. O’CONNOR Piano Trio No. 1, “Poets and Prophets.” BERNSTEIN (arr. Penaforte) West Side Story: Suite Eroica Tr EMI 07351 (56:19)


Rarely does one of the scores of CDs that cross my desk for Read more review each year give me goose flesh from first track to last. But this new EMI release of pianist Erika Nickrenz, violinist Susie Park, and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, aka the Eroica Trio, is one of those. If you’re a chamber music fan but have managed somehow to miss the Eroica (this is but the latest of a series of their recordings for EMI) run, don’t walk, to wherever it is you buy recordings and grab this one. And don’t be put off by the packaging. The graphics, design, and overall presentation, not to mention the smart good looks of the musicians themselves, aren’t what you’d expect to encounter on a CD of classical chamber music. Some of my colleagues have been turned off by the put-together look of the ensemble. Others have found Eroica’s performances too extroverted. (Imagine that: too much extroversion in a field all too prone to relentlessly serious, predictable, business-as-usual performances!) Never mind. What you’ll find inside the unusual packaging is some of the freshest, most daring, drop-dead gorgeous playing by this combination of instruments you’re likely to encounter any time soon.


If I’m not mistaken, this is the first of Eroica’s recordings to feature violinist Susie Park, who joined the ensemble in 2006, replacing Adela Peña. It’s clear, however, that by the time these pieces were recorded (in September 2007 and June 2008) that the new configuration had thoroughly coalesced. In fact, the ensemble cohesion and unanimity of purpose in these rhythmically daunting scores is breathtaking. And their sound? You’re almost unaware of the ensemble’s having “a sound”; these musicians are so inside their material, so identified with each singing line, and intensely invested in every rhythmical gesture that sound and utterance are inseparable.


Sant’Ambrogio and Park take an almost wicked delight in sassy glisses, and both hit their pitch-perfect harmonics with the nonchalance of experienced aerialists. It’s very audacious playing, but never ostentatious or cheap: here audacity’s function is serving the musical affect. In Kenji Bunch’s resourceful and suave Porgy and Bess Fantasy , Park’s feathery vibrato descant over Sant’Ambrogio’s full-throated spinning out of “Summertime” could melt the hardest heart. Later both the strings get way down in “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” only to soar again in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” held aloft by Nickrenz’s filigreed figurations. The Brazilian-born New Yorker, Raimundo Penaforte, whose music was featured on the Eroica disc “Pasión,” is the arranger of the West Side Story Suite, an alternately brilliant and subtle tour de force . Three separate movements run the gamut, from a riotously funny “I Feel Pretty,” through the hushed ardor of “Somewhere,” to conclude with a setting of “America” that amounts to a mini piano concerto, its kaleidoscopic effects tossed off by Nickrenz as though it were her daily warm-up. At 29 minutes, Mark O’Connor’s Trio No. 1, subtitled “Poets and Prophets,” is the longest and most challenging of the offerings. Its four varied movements pay homage to Johnny Cash, shifting the scene from Gershwin’s and Bernstein’s Broadway to the American heartland. In the touching slow movement, “My June,” Nickrenz draws organ-like sonorities from her Steinway, around which Park and Sant’Ambrogio weave melodic tendrils of nearly unbearable poignancy.


All of this, and more than I have room to describe here, was expertly captured by the engineers in the Recital Hall at SUNY Purchase. Composer David Felsenfeld contributed the most inviting liner notes I’ve seen in a long time. Try it. You’ll like it—a lot!


FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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Works on This Recording

1. Fantasy for Violin, Cello and Piano after Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" by Kenji Bunch
Performer:  Sara Sant'Ambrogio (Cello), Susie Park (Violin), Erika Nickrenz (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eroica Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 15 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Notes: Audio Engineer: Tom Lazarus.
Audio Producer: David Frost. 
2. Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano no 1 "Poets and Prophets" by Mark O'Connor
Performer:  Susie Park (Violin), Erika Nickrenz (Piano), Sara Sant'Ambrogio (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eroica Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 28 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Notes: Audio Engineer: Tom Lazarus.
Audio Producer: David Frost. 
3. West Side Story: Suite: I Feel Pretty by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Sara Sant'Ambrogio (Cello), Erika Nickrenz (Piano), Susie Park (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Raimundo Penaforte.
Audio Engineer: Tom Lazarus.
Audio Producer: David Frost. 
4. West Side Story: Suite: Somewhere by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Erika Nickrenz (Piano), Susie Park (Violin), Sara Sant'Ambrogio (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eroica Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 10 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Raimundo Penaforte.
Audio Engineer: Tom Lazarus.
Audio Producer: David Frost. 
5. West Side Story: Suite: America by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Erika Nickrenz (Piano), Sara Sant'Ambrogio (Cello), Susie Park (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Raimundo Penaforte.
Audio Engineer: Tom Lazarus.
Audio Producer: David Frost. 

Sound Samples

Porgy And Bess Fantasy For Piano Trio
Trio No. 1, Poets And Prophets: I. Man In Black
Trio No. 1, Poets And Prophets: II. The Tennessee Two
Trio No. 1, Poets And Prophets: III. My June
Trio No. 1, Poets And Prophets: IV. Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
West Side Story Suite For Piano Trio: I. I Feel Pretty
West Side Story Suite For Piano Trio: II. Somewhere
West Side Story Suite For Piano Trio: III. America

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