Review: April 18, 2000

Piano Trio United by Individuality

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
April 18, 2000
Recital presented by BankBoston Celebrity Series, Emerging Artists

The piano trio is one of the most familiar genres of chamber music, but a really satisfying trio performance is much less common, say, than a fulfilling string quartet performance. Often the undesirable choice is between a trio of celebrities tugging at one another, or a trio of chamber musicians so deferential that all the fire in the music gutters out.

The Triple Helix strikes just the right balance. Each of the players is untamed, untamable, and versatile — each a soloist, an advocate for new music, and an experienced chamber-music player. When violinist Bayla Keyes and cellist Rhonda Rider got together with pianist Lois Shapiro to create the Triple Helix five years ago, the sparks flew, and they’re still flying.

In this unusual instance, the trio, not its individual members, is the “emerging artist”; one of the remarkable things about these women is that their artistic evolution continues every time they play. BankBoston Celebrity Series commissioned a new work for this special occasion, Andy Vores’s “Dark Mother,” a musical response to the myth of Demeter and Persephone, and a radiant Phyllis Curtin narrated the story with elegance, emotion, and sly wit before the performance began.

The work is as remarkable as the circumstances required; Vores is on a roll these days. The four movements outline the situation: “Abundance,” a picture of burgeoning nature in luscious arpeggiated figures; “Mourning,” a lament that plunges through the entire range of the assembled instruments; “Stasis,” angry, bleak, hammering chords; and “Procession,” in which the seasons pass by and begin to dance, bringing us round to the mood of the beginning. The same intervals generate melody, figuration, chords, and dance; this is an organic piece. It also calls for the kind of wildly imaginative, emotionally charged virtuoso playing that it got.

The program began with an observant, unsettling, and balanced performance of Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, for once offered as something other than a small-scale piano concerto. And it concluded with one of Shostakovich’s greatest works, the Second Trio. From that astonishing opening, with the low violin’s answer to the cello playing in its highest register, through the noble central chaconne, to the terrifying klezmer finale with its tragic apotheosis, this was a performance notable for tonal variety; profound emotion; strong personality and unanimity of intent; and controlled abandon. The audience responded with the rare tribute of stunned silence before regrouping for a standing ovation. And a delightful encore by Dvorak returned us to the good things of this earth. This listener has heard many trios, some with famous people in them, some celebrated as ensembles, but never anything to surpass the Triple Helix.