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The Dal Segno Trio: Picasso in Paris

Review by Joseph Sherman

The premise behind Picasso in Paris, presented by New York's Dal Segno Trio (Mescal Wilson, piano; John Kneiling, cello; Stanley Hoffman, violin) is academic, at the undergrad level: if hindsight peepshows an early 20th century Paris beating with the Famous Spaniard's changeable heart, then why not showcase some of the `classical' music associated with these very decades of thrills and flux? As selected: Trio in D Minor, Op. 120 by Gabriel Fauré; Sonata for Violin and Cello by Maurice Ravel; Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8 by Dmitry Shostakovich; and Trio No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 76 by Joaquin Turina.

It was a beautiful summer PEI evening, all threats of a thunderstorm dissipated, and St. Mary's church once again an apt venue for the spiritual to be found in the religiously created. A mid-July sun inclined upon Fauré and Ravel, and set upon Shostakovich and Turina.

I know I might have enjoyed the first piece of music but for the way my ears met its interpretation. I am fond of Fauré's vocal compositions, and was pleased to have him served up as a representative of lushly melodic, late-era Romanticism. One would expect to find elements of trilling liquidity dangling from web strands among piano, cello and violin. In theory only. I don't know whether it was intentional, but the Dal Segno's playing, inclusive of a top-heavy piano and odd sounds from the strings, appeared to be elbowing this composer into the anti-Romantic camp without his permission.

More than one listener awaited the pianoless Ravel sonata, hoping to hear something different, yet familiar. This wasn't it. Perhaps this was the Cubist Picasso, chopping at the arterial strings; it certainly conjured up the puissant image of Pablo the Defiant micturating on the grand staircase of the Palais Garnier (as referenced in the program notes). In concert, Ravel surely stuck his tongue out more than once. Delightful. The problem with music that strives determinedly to make a point in the midst of sociocultural flux is that it does so at the expense of accord. Some folks prefer accord. I did smile back at the insistently playful "Très vif" movement.

Shostakovich was not a comfy fit at Indian River, and as much was declared. Other Russians found Picasso's Paris, but he wasn't among them. The ambitious composer, who would live to run afoul of Stalin as well as of the opposition, was 17 when he composed this single-movement piece, and it is an accomplishment at that level. Young Shosty had been taking himself seriously. But it's a fat splinter, a musical poem of modest breadth, and almost a novelty number when set among the sweated elaborations of Fauré, Ravel and Turina.

The Dal Segno musicians seemed most at ease in presenting the Turina Trio, as was the audience in taking it in. Joaquin Turina, like Pablo Picasso, left the backwater of provincial Spain to learn some lessons in Paris-thus qualifying for this clutch of composers-though he didn't stay. A mid-career accomplishment, the No. 2 is energetically confident, as dramatic as it needs to be, and astonishingly brief, even with its three melody-powered movements. Briskly performed, with no single instrument overwhelming its companions, it sent the sizeable and now reassured audience off into the starry, suddenly still night.

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