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Claremont Trio takes a brash, polished approach

The chic young women prove their mastery of Shostakovich with an inspiring, forceful performance.

September 21, 2004|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Yet another in the line of young, attractive female threesomes that are enlivening the piano scene these days -- the Eroica and Ahn trios come immediately to mind -- the Claremont Trio is apparently following a similar agenda.

Twins Emily (violin) and Julia (cello) Bruskin met pianist Donna Kwong at the Juilliard School only five years ago, and like the Eroica and Ahn groups, the three take an interest in new music, chic garb and Shostakovich, whose Trio No. 2 in E minor seems to have become a touchstone for their generation.

Indeed, the Claremont's revised program at Cerritos Center on Sunday afternoon inserted the Shostakovich into the mix, and it was well worth hearing.

From the start, you could feel the chill from Julia Bruskin's cello harmonics, and the twins were unafraid to make appropriately ugly, demonic sounds in the scherzo.

Although they overdid the tearful pathos in the slow movement, the savage finale was brought to a fine fevered pitch in the center; it burned and it hurt. Yes, they've taken the measure of this piece.

For really new music, the Claremont turned to Mason Bates, whose instructions kept Julia Bruskin and Kwong busy at intermission preparing a Steinway for his 12-minute commission "String Band" (2001).

Locals might remember Bates as the resident wit among the composers who participated in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Synergy project at USC in 2002. While using a Cage-ian prepared piano (with pencil erasers and small screws inserted in some of the strings) is a dandy idea, the piano's delicate thumps and bumps were only sparingly exploited. And after an interesting opening, the piece reached a state of fragmented stasis.

There was conventional piano trio repertoire too. Displaying excellent instrumental balance, the three musicians caught the crazy wit of Haydn's Trio No. 43 in C major -- a fresh performance.

They also did well in Mendelssohn's Trio No. 1 in D minor, characterizing each phrase with unusual care, capturing the essential feathery Mendelssohnian atmosphere in the scherzo.

Enhanced by the acoustics in Cerritos Center's chamber configuration, the Claremont Trio sounded like a group to watch.

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