Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio, “An American Tour” = PAUL SCHOENFELD: Four Music Videos; CLANCY NEWMAN: Juxt-Opposition; CHEN YI: Tunes from My Home; LERA AUERBACH: Triptych: The Mirror with Three Faces – Yael Weiss, piano/Mark Kaplan, violin/Clancy Newman, cello – Bridge 9407, 78:25 (Distr. by Albany) [4/1/14] ***:
The Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio (often known by WKNT I learned; cleverly sounding like a radio station) is a new group for me and a very promising one; with a long and eclectic repertoire to stand by. This album, An American Tour, is a sampling of some of American piano trio music in the 21st century. This is a difficult program and, according to the very helpful booklet notes, the WKNT worked closely with two of the four composers featured (and Clancy Newman being their own cellist-composer.)
Newman is, in fact, the only composer whose work is completely unfamiliar to me. His intriguingly titled Juxt-Opposition, from 2010, is, according to booklet notes, based on a very calculated manipulation an eight note motive. This is one of those pieces that I think most listeners would find immediately interesting and accessible, with a clear tonal center; hints of minimalism and is really quite nice and un-convoluted.
I have heard other pieces by the veteran, somewhat iconoclastic, Paul Schoenfeld before and I have always found his music delightfully difficult to figure out. The booklet notes and – implicitly – the composer acknowledge that not all concert critics like his music; as it seems to walk a line between the quite abstract and the nearly “low brow.” Schoenfield’s Cafe Music is by some accounts one of the best known and most liked piano trios written in the last few years. The present, Four Music Videos, is certainly going to try your patience, in my opinion, but has its bizarrely likable moments. Schoenfeld apparently received a request to write something for MTV, resulting in the present work. The four movements, Rock Song, Bossa Nova, Film Score and Samba all do sound just like what the these titles imply. To the composer’s credit, these genres are the impetus not the explanation (of sorts.) It is an odd piece but rather enjoyable in my mind.
Kansas based, China native Chen Yi may be the best known composer (in “new music” circles) on this disc and is someone the WKNT has worked with before. Her Tunes From My Home is clearly written with a Chinese perspective to it but in a very “Western” context. Some Oriental modes are present and the strings play as if they were Chinese folk instruments, with plucking passages and some short bowings but the results, here, are much better than some “homage” to Chinese music. This is a rich and very cleverly constructed work (as I have found most of her music.)
I have heard just a few works from Russian native Lera Auerbach before but I like her approach. Auerbach’s Triptych is a bit of a mélange of what could be Eastern Euro cafe music mixed with shades of Webern or the like. The whole title, Triptych: The Mirror with Three Faces is a reference to some paintings on bizarre subjects and images, done by Auerbach, herself, that occupy her apartment wall and the Trio’s reaction to them. The music (if I understand the booklet notes correctly) came first and her mixed media art was a response to the music, Triptych. Regardless, this is a dramatic; somewhat unsettling and rewarding work that, for me, may be the best thing in this collection.
Listener reaction to these works may be varied. I still predict that most will find something of value in each piece. As for Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio; bravo! This is an exciting ensemble that I am quite glad to have discovered.