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On the Record: Monument Piano Trio; Victoria Chiang, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra

Two recordings with Baltimore connections caught my ear lately.

The Monument Piano Trio's debut CD arrives just in time. The group's violinist, Igor Yuzefovich, recently accepted the post of concertmaster at the Hong Kong Philharmonic (he has been serving as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's assistant concertmaster), so a change in personnel looks likely at some point down the line.

(Betting money has BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney stepping in; that could work out very well, I imagine.)

Meanwhile, the abilities of the current trio, so familiar to local audiences, have been preserved on an Analog Arts recording packed with great repertoire by ...

Brahms, Shostakovich and Paul Schoenfield.

As I've always found at concerts by the ensemble, the technical level is high, the interpretive level equally so, on this CD, which was recorded at the University of Baltimore.

Yuzefovich, cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski and pianist Michael Sheppard maintain an effective tension in the Piano Trio No. 2 by Brahms, but they also offer spaciousness and dynamic warmth for the most darkly lyrical passages in the score.

The players tap into the desolate world of Shostakovich's profoundly disturbing Trio No. 2, generating a performance of considerable emotional power and rich atmosphere. 

Schoenfield's "Cafe Music" provides a great dessert after the two heavy entrees. This late 1980s piece, inspired by the composer's stint as piano player at a Minneapolis restaurant, manages to combine just about every light genre from the old days -- rag, Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, etc. Even a Chassidic melody gets woven into the fabric.

It all adds up to a fresh, entertaining, often witty experience, and the Monument players deliver it with panache.

The viola has been the target of jokes for so long that some folks may have forgotten that it is a wonderful instrument, capable of a deep, mellow sound. Too bad more composers didn't get inspired by those qualities. The repertoire for viola remains rather slender, compared to that for violin.

But there certainly is material to be found, and more than hour's worth fills a Naxos release featuring Victoria Chiang, a Peabody Conservatory faculty member. She's the soloist in 18th-century concertos by Carl Philipp Stamitz and Franz Anton Hoffmeister, backed by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Markand Thakar. The disc was recorded at Goucher College, the orchestra's home base.

The concertos are pretty and solidly written, if formulaic; they don't exactly leave an indelible imprint. But Chiang's dynamic, expressive playing makes the most of the music with her beautiful tone and tasteful phrasing. She receives smooth, stylish backing from the ensemble.


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