TrioPolis One Plays Modern Composers

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DAFNIS: Ockeghem’s Razor. S. HONG: Evlogimenos. BROBERG: Colors and Texture. A. MAY: Abstraction With Reference. DeROSA: Brazilian Prelude. WATERS: You as a Sea Turtle in a Kelp Forest at Dawn. SABEY: Temple Swallows* / TrioPolis: Kimberly Cole Luevano, cl; Anatolia Ionnides, pno; Felix Olschofka, vln; *Nicola Ruzevic, cel / Fleur de Son Classics FDS58038

TrioPolis One is a chamber group comprised of clarinetist Kimberly Cole Luevano, violinist Felix Olschofka and pianist Anatolia Ionnides. On this recording, they are augmented by cellist Nicola Ruzevic who plays on this piece.

With no disrespect towards the composers of these pieces, their written descriptions of their work in the liner notes is, without exception, obfuscation of the worst sort. They talk about such things as “fluid voice-leading reassembled into angular leaps…obscuring but not obliterating the organic framework,” mapping “coloristic, textural and proportional elements of various paintings into sound” and “approximate rectangles (following) irregular, curved trajectories, unevenly breaking the 10 x 10 ‘resolution’ of the outer edges into clusters of smaller, brightly colored rectangles.” I’m sure this kind of academic BS impresses their composition professors, but it doesn’t impress me one bit. I’m interested in music qua music, not convoluted comparisons to shapes, images and “organic frameworks.”

What I particularly liked about Costas Dafnis’ Ockeghem’s Razor, for instance, was its driving rhythm and attractive, largely tonal thematic material despite the introduction of out-of-center harmonies. Dafnis’ music is both fun to listen to and well-developed, with the clarinet playing mostly in staccato figures and the violin playing edgy, rhythmic figures. It is the piano that seems to carry the bulk of the melodic line, with the other two chiming in every now and then when they are not playing in an angular fashion. There is a lyrical second section in which the rhythmic drive relaxes and all three play in a more conventional trio fashion. Olschofska has a very bright violin tone with a fast vibrato, Luevano’s clarinet playing alternates between a rich, fluid sound and a very bright one with almost no vibrato at all, while Ionnides plays with a warm, deep-in-the-keys touch. That’s about as much as you need to know about their musical approach.

Sungji Hong’s Evlogimenos almost sounds like a continuation of Dafnis’ piece, particularly the lyrical section. Here the clarinet and violin alternate thematic material while the piano plays repeated broken chords beneath them. It’s not exactly a minimalist piece because there is melodic and, later, harmonic movement, but it is regular enough in its rhythm to create a hypnotic effect, and it, too, is an attractive, mostly tonal work. It does, however, overstay its welcome by a couple of minutes, since the development is rather static.

In Kirsten Broberg’s seven-part Colors and Textures, some of the movements are almost microscopically brief (:24, :33, :34, :32), and the musical construction of the first movement written in hocket style (each of the three instruments alternating notes in the construction of the theme). This gives the music more of a clockwork sound than a “colors and textures” quality, but it is interesting. There is also considerable humor in the way Broberg writes for the trio. In the third movement, “Fields of Color,” it is the violin that plays a repetitive rocking motion while the clarinet holds long notes in its middle-low register while the piano sprinkles a few notes here and there, while in “Spiraling” the piano plays running figures in the mid-range while the other instruments play long notes that move slowly and subtly up and down. The 33-second “Primary Colors” has the piano slamming a few chords while the others hold notes above it; “Monochrome in Ultraviolet” has the clarinet sustain a low D while the others plays sparsely above it, and in “Curved Lines” all three plays sparse descending scale-figures, followed by ascending ones. This is a wonderful suite that holds together well and clearly does not overdo its effects.

Andrew May’s Abstraction With Reference takes abbreviated theme snippets and pushes them together to create a whole piece. I was a little less able to follow May’s thinking in the opening section, but as the music expands and becomes broader in scope it all falls into place. Indeed, it is the expansiveness of May’s musical canvas, plus the use of rests and “space” in the score, that draws the listener inward.

With Richard DeRosa’s Brazilian Prelude, we reach a piece with a truly defined melody in minor that morphs to major. The whimsically-titled You as a Sea Turtle in a Kelp Forest at Dawn by Joseph Martin Waters features odd, irregular rhythmic figures above which whole and partial themes play against them. The music is largely rhythmic, with flowing piano arpeggios and clarinet and violin flutters on top. A bit of a Latin rhythm comes in around 2:50, after which the music breaks into quarter-note triplets for a few bars. Later on, it becomes somewhat pointillistic with staccato playing from all concerned. A Latin rhythm comes and goes rather quickly as well.

The finale, Temple Swallows by Benjamin Sabey, tells its tale mostly in bits and pieces, adding a cello to the mixture. As the piece progresses, we hear a great deal of quiet space and a few notes sprinkled in here and there for effect.

All in all, an interesting album, a bit uneven in quality but fascinating all the same.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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