Thursday, May 2, 2019

Trios from Three Centuries at the SBCMS

Trio Ondine: l-r Boglárka Kiss, Alison Bjorkedal, Alma Fernandez.


Trio Ondine, South Bay Chamber Music Society, Pacific Unitarian Church, Rancho Palos Verdes

At the last concert of the South Bay Chamber Music Society’s 2018-2019 season, under the Artistic Directorship of Robert Thies, Trio Ondine (Boglárka Kiss, flute; Alma Fernandez, viola; Alison Bjorkedal, harp) presented a positive cornucopia of no less than seven works: one German from the 18th century, three French from the 20th century, and three very contemporary American pieces, composed within the last few years.

Lucas Richman.
Heading up the proceedings was one of the latter, the aptly-named and positioned Aperitif by Lucas Richman (b. 1964). As Dr. Kiss noted in her (sadly on-line only) program-note, the piece is “bound together by rhythmic permutations of a five-note motive.” Any hint of monotony is kept well at bay, however, by the way the opening continually cycles through different time signatures—7/8, 5/8, 7/8, 6/8. A middle 3/4 section follows, its terrain marked by overlapping entries of the now seven-note motive passed back and forth between the flute and the viola, before the opening bounce returns: altogether a concise six-minute delight.

Maurice Ravel, c. 1910.
There seems to be some uncertainty over exactly how Maurice Ravel came to write the first movement of his Sonatine for piano—whether in direct response to a magazine musical competition or previously as a Conservatoire student and later submitting it for the competition.

Whatever the truth of the matter, by 1905 he had added the other two movements and in this final form there’s no doubt of the Sonatine's adaptability for different forces. Ravel surely would have approved of the 1994 transcription by harpist Skaila Kanga for these forces: I did find the instrumentation in the Animé finale a little over-elaborated, but Trio Ondine dispatched it with great panache.

David Walther.
One Triplet by David Walther (b. 1974) has the same sort of ABA structure as Richman’s Aperitif, but in comparison it felt a little bland and over-extended, though the passing back and forth between the instruments of the central section’s lilting melody had a wistful melancholy.

Dave Volpe.
A second hearing of Gwinna by Dave Volpe (b. 1983), on the other hand (the Trio Ondine brought it to a previous concert under the auspices of Classical Crossroads), quite reversed my previous view of this piece—inspired by the eponymous children’s book from artist and author Barbara Berger—as being a little long for its material.

The work's aural palette in the service of her magical quest tale includes flutter-tonguing on the flute and high harmonics on the viola, skillfully extended by wordless vocalization from Ms. Bjorkedal as well as delicate interventions on rainstick, small chimes, and crotales from the other two players. I wonder if they have considered a presentation of it accompanied by a slide-show of the story?

André Jolivet in
uniform, 1940.
After the interval came another work which had been played by Trio Ondine at that earlier concert, André Jolivet’s Petite Suite from 1941, and the further hearing confirmed the memorability, contrast, and individuality of its five short movements—from the cool, grey landscape of the first through the bird-call fluttering of the second, the whirling dance of the third, and the somber descent of the fourth, to the final cheery round-dance. As so often with these concerts, Trio Ondine’s skill and commitment prompted the desire to explore more music by the composer in question.

Georg Philipp Telemann,
engraving c. 1745.
The only step back beyond 20th and 21st-century confines came with the Trio Sonata in G minor TWV 42:g7 by Telemann (what is probably the biggest output from one composer known to music history justifies, presumably, the most complex composer-catalog numbering system…?) All four of its brief movements were characterized by smooth counterpoint between the flute and viola, with the harp underpinning standing in for the continuo part, and made a refreshing change of style before what was the first and surely still the greatest masterpiece for this combination of instruments.

Claude Debussy.

I cannot imagine any recital of music by flute, viola, and harp omitting Debussy’s Sonata L. 145, and again this was the second time I’d heard Trio Ondine play it. They must have done the piece on many other occasions, but here, at the end of the concert and thoroughly warmed up, they performed it with all the fervor of a new discovery.

The extraordinarily idiomatic and original writing for all three instruments throughout, and the fascinating construction of the wide-ranging first movement in particular, yield new insights at each rehearing. Despite being more than a century old, this penultimate work of a composer already mortally ill and in straitened personal circumstances, composed amidst the tumult of war, still sounded the most forward-looking of all the works presented.

Trio Ondine’s wide-ranging recital made a great conclusion to Robert Thies’ inaugural season as the SBCMS Artistic Director, and this fortunate local resident, for one, is looking forward eagerly to what he has in store for us in the upcoming 2019-2020 schedule.


South Bay Chamber Music Society, Pacific Unitarian Church, Rancho Palos Verdes, 3pm, Sunday, April 28, 2019.
Photos: The performers: Courtesy SBCMS; Lucas Richman: Composer Facebook page; Ravel: Enoch Editions; David Walther: Fatrock Ink Music Publishers; Dave Volpe: Composer website; Jolivet: Composer website; Telemann: Wikimedia Commons; Debussy:

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