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MUSIC REVIEW

A bright note from Sequenza

March 03, 2003|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

The group formerly known as the Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio was hit with a tragic blow when pianist David Golub died of cancer in 2000. However, violinist Mark Kaplan and cellist Colin Carr decided to keep the group going, with the addition of a new pianist, Yael Weiss.

They went through a whole slew of serious and not-so-serious possible group names -- including, if you can believe it, Peter and the Wolves! -- before settling on the rather generic tag Sequenza, which is supposed to suggest an ongoing commitment to contemporary music.

Sure enough, there was one -- if only one -- bit of contemporary music on Sequenza's program at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall on Friday night, a piece that definitely would be worth hearing again.

This was Bright Sheng's Four Movements for Piano Trio, whose innocuous title barely masks an inventive, highly stimulating fusion of Chinese scales and Western techniques. In the first movement, Sheng gives the violin and cello dying portamenti that make them sound like Chinese instruments, and the riffing third movement generated a lot of rhythmic vitality, almost as if Bartok were hovering over the Pacific Rim.

Otherwise, Sequenza drew from the European mainstream, opening with Haydn's Trio in E Major, H.XV:28; generating some heat in the outer movements of Brahms' compact Trio in C Minor; offering more committed performances of the Ravel Trio; and, as an encore, the second movement of Schubert's Trio in B-Flat Major.

Weiss is a capable pianist, yet she didn't go much beyond accurately stating the notes; the solo piano opening of the Ravel, for example, should be an instant immersion into the composer's distinctive harmonic haze, and it just lay there matter-of-factly. However, Kaplan and Carr compensated with their conversation-like exchanges, and the balances between the three were generally even.

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