Monday, June 30, 2014

Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio's Successful American Tour

An American Tour
Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio
Bridge Records

"An American Tour" presents a quick survey of American piano trio music in the 21st century. It's an ambitious program, but the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio is more than equal to the task. The ensemble worked closely with two of the four composers featured, and counts one as a member. These personal relations let the ensemble go deep into the works to get at the essence of what the composers were trying to express.

Lera Auerbach's Triptych almost sounds like a musical collage. Eastern European cafe music mixes with extended instrumental technique, pointalistic melodies, and slightly off-kilter tonal passages. Yet, in the capable performances of the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio, it all blends together into a coherent - and highly expressive -- whole.

Chen Yi is another composer the group has worked with. Her "Tunes From My Home," is a fascinating blend of Oriental and Occidental musical traditions. Yes, the source material is Cantonese, but it's been completely reworked. The pentatonic melodic outline is there, and occasionally the violin and cello mimic the plucked sound of Chinese string instruments. The working out of the material proceeds in a manner more familiar to Western audiences.

Clancy Newman is the group's cellist -- and also a talented composer. According to the liner notes, his piece Juxt-Opposition is based on a methodical working-out of an eight note motif. And it one that works. Like all good music, it lives on the merits of its own sound, and requires no extra-musical information to help the listener make sense of it. The work just naturally seems to unfold from its sparse opening, branching out in many directions in the process.

Paul Schoenfield's Cafe Music is probably the most famous piano trio written in the last few years (or at least the most popular). Four Music Videos, given time, may run a close second. It sprang from a request to write something for MTV -- but the results are much better than that. The four movements, "Rock Song," "Bossa Nova" "Film Score" and "Samba" all deliver on the promises of their titles. But Schoenfeld uses these genres as a starting point, not the destination. The music is sassy, high-energy, and perhaps more jazzy than rock -- but great fun to listen to from start to finish.

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