‘NOTABLE WOMEN – Trios by Today's Female Composers’ – Lincoln Trio – Cedille

by | Sep 23, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

‘NOTABLE WOMEN – TRIOS BY TODAY’S FEMALE COMPOSERS’ = LERA AUERBACH: Trio for violin, cello & piano; STACY GARRUP: Seven for piano trio; JENNIFER HIGDON: Piano Trio; LAURA ELISE SCHWENDINGER: C’e la Luna Questa Sera?; AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Moon Jig; JOAN TOWER: Trio Cavany – Lincoln Trio– Cedille Records CDR 9000 126, 67:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The Lincoln Trio is a very prominent ensemble in the Chicago classical music scene, especially stemming from its affiliation with the Ravinia Festival. Founded in 2003, the trio consists of violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe and pianist Martha Aznavoorian. This disc, their first full CD release, on the Chicago-based Cedille label is a revelation!
According to a press release, the Trio decided to showcase the music of living American women composers to further their work in introducing audiences to important, contemporary composers as well as to showcase this particular group, whose music is becoming an increasingly vital component of the current repertory. I could not agree more!
I am quite familiar with the music of some of these very talented composers, specifically Jennifer Higdon, Augusta Read Thomas and Joan Tower. Jennifer Higdon’s work, Piano Trio, heard here, is a beautiful and introspective two movement work; wherein each movement, “Pale Yellow” and “Fiery Red”, illustrates what the composer call her fascination with connections between painting and music. Her own use of tone color and mood comes out so clearly and, like most of Jennifer’s scores, the emotion carries the piece forward in a captivating way. The tone of the ‘yellow’ is, indeed’ quite different from the ‘fiery red’. This is an absolutely stunning piece!
Chicago based composer Augusta Read Thomas wrote Moon Jig expressly for the Lincoln Trio. Thomas describes the piece as “somewhat of a cross between jazz… classical”.  In this short, spiky and attention-getting work, the piano acts as sort of a springboard for melodic and harmonic input from which the violin and cello react, almost in an improvisatory manner. This is a very solid work that makes a great addition to the genre.
Joan Tower is, in many ways, almost the dean of American women composers. I am most familiar with her orchestral works and have had the pleasure of hearing many of them live in concert for over thirty years. Her Trio Cavany, from 2007, takes its name from the three states, California, Virginia and New York; the states from which the three organizations who commissioned the work are based. Tower’s work is the longest in this set and is very dramatic and dense, throughout. There are many wonderful virtuosic moments indicative of the composer’s intention that each instrument be treated as a soloist at some point. This is chamber music that sounds larger than its component forces and provides sweeping gestures throughout, until its dramatic conclusion!
I always enjoy discovering the music of new composers (to me…) and this disc also provides three terrific examples. Lera Auerbach is a young New York composer and pianist, originally from Russia. Her music seems to make free use of contrasts; tonal alongside atonal; traditional sonorities alongside extended effects and very strong foundational melodies. Her Trio for violin, cello and piano, is a three movement work, structured traditionally but containing great drama and propulsive phrasing. The cellist is called upon to perform some strange glissandi intended to represent “cries of seagulls” in one place and the pianist is asked to mimic a cello solo at one point playing with a “glass-like” sound. This is a fascinating and attractive work, lyrical and pretty in places; dark and onerous in others.
Stacy Garrop’s Seven for piano trio is a similarly evocative work that takes its title from some quite unusual sources. Garrop references poet Anne Sexton’s “Seven Times”, a reflection on death and afterlife as well as on the ‘Borg’ from the Star Trek television show and movies (!)  The piece is written in seven continuously-connected sections that utilize many nearly nightmarish effects including playing in the piano’s interior and the ensemble making sudden, frantic stops. Garrop is a professor of composition at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.
C’e la Luna Questa Sera? (“Is There a Moon Tonight?”) by Wisconsin-based Laura Elise Schwendinger is written in one continuous movement and is strangely, eerily beautiful. Inspired by the sights and feelings of the moon over Italy’s Lake Cuomo, this is an ethereal, almost impressionistic beauty of a piece. With well-placed tremolos and high unison string melodies against a piano that whispers, shimmers and even ‘threatens’ at some points, the work seems to ask and answer the question posed by its title. I liked this piece a great deal!
This is a marvelous program and the Lincoln Trio performs brilliantly. The group has performed all over the world including a recent four-city tour to Columbia and a tour in 2009 for the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial. They are wonderful musicians with a very clear and most gratifying commitment to contemporary music. I support, also, the concept behind this album, having done similar thematic programming myself. The truest test of all music is not in the awareness that it is written by a female composer – or any demographic – but in discovering that it is good music, deserving to be heard again and again. This disc is comprised of all great pieces that I strongly recommend!
— Daniel Coombs

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