Trio Sirènes opens new UMBC chamber series with alluring program

Mon Sep 11, 2023 at 12:03 pm

Trio Sirènes opened UMBC’s chamber music series Sunday at Linehan Concert Hall. Photo: Dariusz Skoraczewski

The music department of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has inaugurated a Sunday afternoon concert series devoted to chamber music. The first of seven concerts scheduled through December took place Sunday afternoon in the campus’s beautiful Linehan Concert Hall. Trio Sirènes, a group composed of flutist Marcia McHugh, violist Karin Brown, and harpist Jacqueline Pollauf, performed an hour-long program.

Music for this combination of instruments dates mostly from the beginning of the 20th century and later. Such trios often augment their repertoire with arrangements, as in their first piece, the Sonata, Op. 2, no. 8, by Jean-Marie Leclair. Part of a set of sonatas for solo violin, this piece has a second, written-out part for viola da gamba. With the harp taking the continuo part, as arranged by the Debussy Trio, the retooling worked well for these instruments.

Flutist and violist wove their lines in intricate patterns in the opening Adagio, cleanly delineating the sixteenth notes in the subsequent Allegro. Brown, who is assistant principal violist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, shone in her low range in the third movement, while the harp produced unusual trills. The fourth movement featured the group’s best ensemble tightness as they coordinated more fast-moving textures.

A very different sort of arrangement came next, with Dan Reiter’s version of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The piece opens with one of the most celebrated flute solos of all time, on which McHugh, the BSO’s second flutist, produced a languorous, silvery tone. The prominent parts for two harpists in the orchestral version condensed nicely for Pollauf, whose playing swooped and sighed elegantly. Occasional high stretches and double-stops proved sometimes challenging for the violist.

The only piece on the program actually written for this kind of trio was Arnold Bax’s Elegiac Trio, composed around the time that Debussy helped bring this unique chamber combination to greater acceptance. Bax, who lived in Dublin for many years, wrote this piece in the wake of the Easter uprising there in 1916, as a tribute to the lives lost, including the leaders of the rebellion who were executed.

The prominent part for harp, often anchored on a G pedal note throughout the long single movement, recalled both Debussy-influenced harmony and Irish folk music. While the tempo could perhaps have been a little slower, more like an elegy, the trio coordinated the piece’s often complex rhythms expertly. Pollauf delicately picked out a section where the melody appears softly in the harp, accompanied by flute and viola trills.

Washington-based composer Lori Laitman wrote her Images for flute, harp, and cello, but this set of four miniatures worked just as well with the cello line transferred to viola. In the first movement, Brown’s ostinato figure on a perfect fifth established a folk-like feel, with modal melodic lines laced on top of one another. The trio played the remaining three movements in reverse order, beginning with the lilting gigue-like last movement.

The third movement’s lush neo-romantic harmony felt like a lullaby. With all instruments relatively low in range and hushed, the piece proceeds at a rocking tempo before drifting off. The cascading scalar patterns of the second movement, in a brisk quadruple time, made a fitting conclusion.

The most effective adaptation was the final piece, Ravel’s Sonatine for piano, transcribed for trio by harpist Skaila Kanga. The first movement, taken at a pleasing, moderate tempo, balanced much activity for the harpist against beautifully tuned solo work from both violist and flutist. McHugh’s pure-toned flute bore the melodic weight of the graceful slow movement adeptly, with unified and exciting playing from all three musicians in the animated finale capping an excellent debut for this worthy new series.

Piano duo Teodora Adzharova and Shirley Yoo play music by Rachmaninoff and Arensky 3 p.m. September 24.

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