I attended the formal debut-again concert of the Puget Sound piano trio last Friday not quite knowing what to expect. The trio is a resurrected version of that which used to play regularly at the University of Puget Sound, and two of the players – the late Ed Seferian on violin and the recently retired Cordelia Wikarski-Miedel on cello – have just been replaced by violinist Maria Sampen, who filled Seferian’s position as associate violin professor, and cellist David Requiro, made artist-in-residence last August. Pianist Duane Hulbert is the sole continuing member. It’s a good and vital thing for UPS to promote this kind of faculty chamber music, but I wasn’t expecting a high level of mutual compatibility from three musicians who were playing in a trio largely because of their day-jobs, rather than personal musical choice or long-standing collaboration.
Turns out I was wrong.
Despite these three musicians being very different players, the trio made a big impact at Schneebeck Hall Friday night thanks to two things they all have in common – intelligent technical skill and a passion for unusual compositions.
The concert wasn’t all delightful, though. For some reason, Beethoven’s “Kakadu” Variations were the opener, and trio played like three strangers at a well-mannered tea party, never disagreeing but never quite engaging either. The mercurial mood changes and formal classicisms sounded prissy and restrained, Sampen clearly trying to have a good time and Requiro taking the whole thing much too seriously.
Requiro’s a fine cellist. After winning the Naumberg competition at 23, followed by a string (hah!) of prizes and symphonic appearances, he was taken on at UPS last year to great fanfare. With a luscious, dark-oak tone and precise technique he deserves the accolades, but he wasn’t interacting much with Beethoven’s verve.
Then things changed. Launching into a short trio by young Kansas composer Nicolas Omiciolli the three players moved into a new world: The agonizing bursts of Omiciolli’s rant (chosen by Hulbert) against a life-threatening disease came out in fighting string lines and tumultuous piano chords, Sampen and Requiro matching a big, expressive sound against Hulbert’s (literally) shaking piano, and producing some very scary harmonics.
And by the third piece Requiro was coming into his own. In the 1926 trio by Gaspar Cassado, a kind of Spanish Respighi, Requiro was finally playing like he meant it, with passionate long lines in the composer’s lush, post-Impressionist atmosphere. From the big, broad opening gesture through the heavily flamenco bass and filigree string runs of the second movement and the virtuosic triplets of the third, the three musicians wove an enchanting tapestry of sound.
Due to a severe cold and post-surgery shoulder, I had to leave before the Brahms in the second half, but it was still clear that Tacoma is very lucky to have this caliber of chamber music – the equal of many big-name touring ensembles – and who hold a promise of very fine collaboration intertwined with unusual, thoughtful programming.