Salerno-Sonnenberg and McDermott Perform with Parker Quartet at 92Y
Amphion String Quartet Takes Carnegie Hall by Storm

St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble: "Three Part Inventions" at the Brooklyn Museum

by Michael Cirigliano II

St Luke's Chamber Ensemble, Three Part Inventions, Feast of Music

The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble crossed the river and descended upon the Brooklyn Museum’s Cantor Auditorium Sunday afternoon, presenting a varied, yet cohesive, afternoon of trios that traced an unlikely stylistic lineage between two Viennese titans and a Hungarian ethnomusicologist.

Paired with a one-movement Schubert piano trio on each half were two large-scale works featuring the clarinet: Brahms’ autumnal A minor Trio and Bartók’s blues-inflected Contrasts. Hardly presented in chronological order, the Bartók’s spiky rhythms were well matched with Schubert’s early B-flat Major Trio, composed at the tender age of 15. Although simplistic in its construction, the work provides many glimpses into the sophisticated sense of melodic contour Schubert was to develop in his later output.

Unfortunately, only guest pianist Benjamin Hochman truly excelled in delivering an energetic sense of style, playfully accenting the many march figures peppered throughout. Violinist Naoko Tanaka and cellist Myron Lutzke were both reticent to make their voices heard, often leaving Hochman to lead the direction and color changes, even when the strings should have been the dominant voices.

Similarly in the Bartók, Tanaka relied on a submissive sense of music-making, hardly digging into the fiendish rhythms and aggressive violin effects needed to convey the music’s gypsy-like qualities. Clarinetist Jon Manasse, however, made bold choices and showed a complete mastery of the instrument’s virtuosic material—the serpentine cadenza of the “Verbunkos” reached to the uppermost register before tiptoeing around in pointillist fashion, while the “Sebes” had many knuckle-busting flights of fancy that were delivered with agile grace.

Although written 63 years apart, Schubert’s E-flat Major Trio and Brahms’ A minor Trio have many shared traits, having been written during each composer’s twilight years. Schubert’s early march rhythms gave way to elegantly rolled chords and expressive vocal writing, brilliantly played once again by Hochman. After the brief lullaby, Hochman soon showed his true merit in the Brahms, navigating the rhythmic intricacies and thick writing with a great sense of clarity.

Once again, Manasse was the center point of the ensemble, rising in and out of the group’s texture as needed while always filling the hall with his rich vocal styling. As sensitive as Manasse and Hochman were, though, Lutzke failed to make the cello an equal voice—his strained tone never quite cutting through enough, especially in the numerous melodic leaps that should have provided an overwhelming sense of German Romantic drama. Only in the second movement’s serene Adagio did Lutzke’s sound fit into the proceedings, as all three musicians united for a poignant and reflective account of one of the composer’s sincerest musical statements.

Three Part Inventions will be performed at the Morgan Library & Museum on May 1st and 3rd. Tickets can be purchased through Orchestra of St. Luke's website.