SAN FRANCISCO VOICE
Every time I think I've done a roundup of oustanding Bay Area ensembles, I discover that I've omitted someone. (Several "someones," generally; this is such a music-rich environment that it becomes difficult to track them all.) The New Pacific Trio, comprising pianist Sonia Leong, violinist Linda Wang, and cellist Nina Flyer, is one that slipped in under the radar until Sunday's concert at Old First Church. The program was offbeat; the playing was marvelous.
The performance (of Saint-Saëns'Second Piano Trio) was about all one could want. Wang and Flyer are uncommonly well-matched players, Flyer with the grittier sound, Wang with a smooth but intense tone that stood up well to Flyer's, and to the lid-full-up piano too. Leong, meanwhile, played the brilliant piano part effortlessly and with a great deal of flair, though perhaps a little too much care not to cover the strings. These were players who knew when to dig in passionately and when to lighten up, and (what is rarer) did both things well.
The Suk Elegie that followed showed the NPT in another light....Here both string players were altogether more sultry than they'd been in the Saint-Saëns, taking their cues from the rich lines and their underlying harmonies.
After intermission came a terrific performance of the Shostakovich Second Trio, one remarkable for exaggerating in all the right places. The opening (with the cello in ferociously-difficult artificial harmonics that I don't think I've heard performed better live), was spellbinding, and Wang's duetting with Flyer had just the right note: not too obviously flesh-and-blood, but standing off a little — as it were, doing a ghost the courtesy of pretending to be one herself. The ensuing Scherzo certainly lacked neither flesh nor blood (nor guts); it's one of those brutal objects-in-six-sharps that Shostakovich favored, inexplicably relieved by a fresh, free tune that emerges a couple times and then gets clubbed into obscurity again. Then comes a passacaglia, full of densely-packed chords, but with a couple of pure triads in there just to make clear where you are in the eight-bar pattern. And then the finale with its ethnic-Jewish tunes, played Sunday with steely clarity. The NPT players couldn't exactly prevent the compositorial tying-the-threads-together at the end of the finale from sounding contrived. (Here's the passacaglia again! And here's the opening theme, only with the violin on the high notes and the cello on the low ones!) But they did make the ending somehow dignified and moving.