Helen Grime at the Gardner
The young Scottish composer Helen Grime, whose recent oboe quartet was such a marvel, stayed in town for another premiere, Three Whistler Miniatures, a piano trio inspired by three Whistler chalk-and-pastel miniatures at the Gardner Museum (impossible to view directly, since they're roped off, and it's too dark to see any detail). It's dedicated to the Gardner's new Calderwood Concert Hall and was performed by the Claremont Quartet (the twins Emily and Julia Bruskin on violin and cello, and their fine new pianist, Andrea Lam). It's shorter and less ambitious than the Oboe Quartet, but seductive and mysteriously beautiful.
Grime has a phenomenal ear. The first movement, The Little Note in Yellow and Gold (Whistler's tiny portrait of Mrs. Gardner herself), begins with the pedaled piano, eerily and ethereally reverberating as the overlapping strings come in, and ends three minutes later in the highest strings. The second movement, Lapis Lazuli (a pastel of a reclining nude — presumably not Mrs. Gardner), has the work's most striking effect — powerful pizzicato strings struck against staccato piano that sounds like an alarm bell going off. The Violet Note returns us to the quietude of the first movement, and ends with a deep sighing in the restless strings and the calming piano.
For the first time, I was sitting on the stage level at the Calderwood, but facing the backs of the players (all the seats facing the players had been reserved for special guests). I could hear the details of Grime's trio quite clearly. But in the preceding Mozart B-flat Trio, K. 502, the cello sounded amorphous and fuzzy, and was hard to hear. The performance as a whole seemed to have too much push-pull, getting in the way of Mozart's crisp clarity. This is less a sublime piece than one that comes most to life as an expression of formal patterns. I couldn't quite separate the still-dicey acoustics from the performance. The concert closed with a vigorous rendition of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's D-minor Trio, with a particularly striking Hungarian piano dance in the Finale.
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