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Music Review

Balancing Concerto-Like Display With Chamber-Music Subtlety

April 24, 2001|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of the perennial delights of the traveling Musicians From Marlboro is that they usually bring repertory not championed by standing ensembles. That was the case Sunday, when the current touring group from the venerable Vermont festival arrived at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall with a satisfyingly fresh and solid trio of trios.

Brahms' Horn Trio is a genuine masterpiece seldom heard solely because there are only a few other reasons--Ligeti, maybe Krenek--to get such an ensemble together. And it needs to be an ensemble as powerful and persuasive as this Marlboro three, horn player David Jolley, violinist Todd Phillips and pianist Jonathan Biss.

They mixed concerto-like display and presence with the subtlety and communion of chamber music. Balances, for this potentially troublesome combination, were never threatened at either end of a broad dynamic spectrum. There were fireworks and limber energy to spare, but this was primarily a dark, reflective reading, rich in detail and stunningly immediate in emotional force.

Paul Hindemith wrote his first string trio, Opus 34, in 1924. The relentless counterpoint of this compact, delightfully inventive work is sprung by jazz-inflected rhythms and a performer's sure ideas about effective sonorities. Phillips, violist Kirsten Johnson and cellist Margo Tatgenhorst gave it an intense, firmly pointed workout.

There was a somewhat steely straightforwardness to Mozart's Piano Trio in B-flat, K. 502. This piece also brims with contrapuntal and developmental ingenuity, but is probably best loved for its tunes. Biss, Phillips and Tatgenhorst kept its mechanical and structural aspects focused, but held its expressive core at an aloof arm's length.

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