An American Journey

Eroica Trio

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An American Journey Review

by James Manheim

Chamber music meets the glamorous life in the image of the Eroica Trio, shown here lounging among pillows with their instruments, clad in designer jeans and sleeveless white tops. Although violinist Susie Park is Australian, all three members of the trio came from the ranks of Juilliard School alumni. Their music is more conventional than their image, with their repertoire drawing mostly on the established piano trio literature; they have also specialized in appearances in the Beethoven Triple Concerto, Op. 56. An American Journey, which is being backed by a tour of clubs (here the trio follows the lead of cellist Matt Haimovitz), moves them in a crossover direction with a set of pieces more or less based on vernacular idioms. The opening Porgy and Bess Fantasy for Piano Trio is the best of the bunch, you might say, with an arrangement by American composer Kenji Bunch that attractively runs counter to type in its settings of Gershwin's tunes and puts them together into a structure that's something more than a medley. Arranger Raimundo Penaforte tries to do something of the same thing with a set of three tunes from Bernstein's West Side Story, but that musical is resistant to this sort of tampering; "America" gains nothing from being pulled back in a Stravinskian direction after Bernstein stretched that idiom into Latin pop. The central work on the program, Mark O'Connor's Trio No. 1, Poets and Prophets, is billed as "inspired by Johnny Cash, champion for society's downtrodden." Cash's music might seem even more unsuited to this environment, and O'Connor doesn't even try to quote it. The only section quickly identifiable as referring to Cash is the second movement, "The Tennessee Two," wittily built on the "boom-chicka" rhythm of Cash's early hits. The rest is written in the idiom O'Connor has contributed to his experiments in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer, which might be termed extended Appalachian pentatonicism. In this case, it goes down easy, but it doesn't quite live up to the big ideas it suggests. Is the same true of the playing of the Eroica Trio? Maybe, but its outreach to contemporary audiences is all to the good.

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