THE GRYPHON TRIO by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, March 6, 2007
The Gryphon Trio with Joan Watson
Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto

The highlight of this MTO “New Music Celebration” with the lustrous Gryphon Trio was a piece the Trio commissioned last year from Jonathan Berger. Poetically titled “Tears in Your Hand”, it opens with a dramatic series of non-melodic piano runs and slashes of strings in note values alternating short and long, slow and quick. The mood is anguish subtilized to gossamer weightlessness along the strings while Jamie Parker’s lightest of hands on the piano tolls a sustaining tenderness.

Many passages are short and abruptly truncated, leaving spaces as if the sad, lost music might try to escape from a bewildering maze. It should come as no surprise to learn that The title, Tears in Your Hand alludes to a line from the Yiddish song “Unter Dyne Vyse Shetern”, (Under Your White Stars) by Abraham Sutsever written in 1943 in the Vilna Ghetto.

The Gryphon players’ individual control of tone and dynamics and their ‘one-mind’ display of perfect unison created a sharpness that allowed us to experience the excitement of Berger’s dramatic and varied composition.

Gary Kulesha’s “Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano” which had its world premiere last night, is a passionate piece in a gentle mood, opening with the bittersweet voice of guest Joan Watson’s horn calling clear and melodic; these motives are developed in counterpoint between Parker’s gentle-handed piano and Annalee Patipatanakoon’s intense violin. There is some wonderfully comic writing for the piano in the second movement, which Parker offers in a burlesquey, cartoony style. Generally, though, the piece did not reach the expected impact level of a Gryphon performance.

Anton Arensky’s “Piano Trio No.1, in D Minor, Op.32 (1894)” was elected to close this “New” Music Celebration. The first movement gives a lot to the violinist who makes lovely if not exciting music. The “scherzo” is bouncy and good-humoured. It ended with a musical joke that everyone in the audience ‘got’ and all of us chuckled in unison. Roman Borys plays the cello part of the first theme of the “Elegia: Adagio” very wistfully in a “those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end” mood. The second theme is even lovelier, evanescent and bubbling like a brook that carries reflections of willow over a gleaming bed of mottled pebbles. The musicianship of the Gryphon Trio here is transparent and detailed. The finale brings images of a worn and worldly traveler exalted by suffering subsiding at last into a calm safe harbour.

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