How do you enjoy the rare warm velvet night of a Carmel winter? An evening by a fire? A walk along the shore? How about entering the soft light of a concert hall for a chamber music concert? I enjoyed an evening at Sunset Center listening to the Horszowski Trio on Saturday, February 1, 2020. The members of this ensemble: Jesse Mills, violin, Raman Ramakrishnan, cello, and Rieko Aizawa, piano presented three compositions. For the final piece, they welcomed guest violinist Aaron Boyd. In his pre-concert talk, Kai Christiansen mentioned the contrasts in the compositions. I did hear the contrasts, and I also heard an ensemble of master musicians play some fabulous music.
The program began with Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor by Robert Schumann. Lasting a full 30 minutes, the piece is presented in 4 movements: Mit Energie und Leidenschaft, Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch, Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung, and Mit Feuer. There was much to listen for and much to enjoy. We were treated to brooding harmonies, tumbling scales and rhythmic feints. Mr. Mills announced they were dedicating the performance of the Schumann to the memory of Peter Serkin who passed away earlier in the day. It was quite evident the musicians were playing from the depth of their hearts.
Before the Intermission, we heard an exciting piece: Trio No. 1 op. 28 by Lera Auerback. Written in the early 1990’s when Ms. Auerbach was just beginning her adult life in a new country; the piece struck me as having edges, but not particularly edgy. There is in this work contemporary musical idioms, mixed in with passages that harken back to the great masters we all know and love. In the first movement, Prelude, the musicians gave us melodies that reminded us of Baroque music with counterpoint clearly laid out in imitative passages. The second movement, Andante lamentoso, reminded me of the composition by Schumann we had just enjoyed. Cellist Ramakrishnan, gave us a lovely, soaring, lyrical melody. The final movement, Presto, is a quick jaunt through rhythmic exchanges. I found myself marveling at how well they were playing in tune, and in time with each other. The lack of tonal grounding and contrasts was a challenge well met by the three instrumentalists.
After a brief intermission, we settled in for a Suite of 5 movements by Erich Korngold. This is scored for 2 violins, cello and piano left hand. Often, a piece is chosen due to the uniqueness of the work: unusual circumstances for the composer, unusual scoring, or unusual compositional style. Each of the movements gave us something old and something new. We heard a traditional prelude and fugue along with a waltz, scherzo, rondo and lied or song. It can be distracting to watch a musician work their way through technically demanding music, but pianist Aizawa never let the technical difficulties she so deftly mastered detract from the beauty of the composition.
I was struck by how the musicians not only played together, but managed to create a seamless sound between instruments. If I had not been watching a live performance, I would not have caught that the violin finished a phrase on the same pitch the cello began the next phrase. The two instruments sounded identical from my seat. This is Chamber Music at its finest. These musicians played with a compelling mastery — matching the pitch, tone, rhythm and even use of vibrato/attack — to create a wonderful ensemble. We are very fortunate that they came to our little corner of paradise to share their music with us. Thank you, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, for having the vision and inviting us to join the ride.