Firepower was present in each work from music of Beethoven and Mendelssohn to that of living composers Kelly-Marie Murphy (b. 1964) and Sun-Young Park (b. 1988), at the Allant Trio’s New York debut recital. Recipients of numerous accolades individually, the three are recent awardees of the John Madrigano Entrepreneurship grant at the Juilliard School, where their instrumental teachers have included Martin Canin, Robert McDonald, Hyo Kang, Naoko Tanaka, and Richard Aaron, plus coaches Toby Appel, Rohan DeSilva, Jonathan Feldman, Nicholas Mann and Vivian Weilerstein. In addition to such illustrious guidance, each member of the trio reflects the will and determination of a lifetime of passionate commitment to performing. True to the needs of today’s classical performers to reach out in musical mission, they are also versatile, spreading their gifts from major concert venues to soup kitchens and senior centers, and from innovative teaching projects to commissioning and performing new compositions. If there were a checklist for the musician of today, theirs would leave nothing blank.
Of course all checklists are meaningless without the performance itself, and I am happy to say that the performances were riveting. In fact, I would defy even the most exhausted and jaded listener to experience even a moment of boredom in this group’s high-voltage evening. The rocketing opening of Beethoven’s Trio in D minor, Op. 70, No. 1 (Ghost) caught me off guard as faster than what I’m accustomed to, but it lost nothing in clarity and was perfectly synchronized. There was throughout an almost microscopic attention to detail, and the result was a performance as close to perfectly polished as one will find; unlike some instances of this hyper-vigilance, however, theirs never interfered with the sense of overall structure. This trio had clearly done its homework and looked at the work from inside and out – with undoubtedly expert coaching. Ms. Nam, the pianist, showed extraordinary dynamic range with precision and clarity. There were even moments (especially in the central Largo) when one might have actually wanted less clarity (for example in its awkwardly exposed tremolos) but the same crisp articulation was again a joy in the finale. The ensemble work was outstanding. Physical unity was demonstrative without histrionics, and attacks and cut-offs were arresting and razor-sharp.
If one wanted more a bit more presence from violinist, Anna Park, the next work gave her more of a showcase along with the cellist, Alina Lim. Both were passionate and projective. “Give Me Phoenix Wings to Fly,” by Kelly-Marie Murphy, found the violin in a leadership role (in fact standing) through three highly expressive movements that evoked (as the Ms. Murphy describes) “fire, bleak devastation, and rebuilding.” In confrontational exchange of jagged virtuosic gestures one could easily envision the violent darting of flames, and the trio played up the drama to the hilt, as was fit. The dark second movement was haunting and beautifully connected in spirit to the Ghost Trio (ingenious programming), but all finished brilliantly with resurgence of energy in the third, as the phoenix began its rise. Ms. Murphy is an exciting and imaginative composer, much in demand especially in her native Canada and deservedly so. Of strong personality, she posts her occasional negative press on a webpage entitled “They hate me … they really hate me” – a cheeky feature that I almost regret to say will not be including my comments!
After intermission came music slightly lighter in spirit, along with a brightening of wardrobe from largely black to glimmering and golden hues (an optional item on the checklist – visual excitement!). First was the New York premiere of a work entitled HEEM by Sun-Young Park and commissioned by the performers. The title, according to Ms. Park’s notes is a Korean word with “a multitude of meanings: energy, strength, force, potency, effort” with the central premise being “intensity”, an aptly chosen word for this trio. A seven-minute showpiece with “everything but the kitchen sink” in terms of technical wizardry, and glissandi galore, it will surely be a regular vehicle for the Allant Trio and probably many others.
More of this group’s superb playing shone in Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 49, and, though it lacked nothing in intensity, I was glad to see that there were some more moments of the slightly more relaxed, intimate music making that I usually look for in chamber music. The cello lines breathed beautifully and the violin projected more individually than in the rest of the program. The one or two moments where not everything meshed perfectly I actually took as wholesome sign that each line was living a bit more independently. As a minor reservation, the Andante con moto tranquillo in my opinion could have enjoyed a more straightforward quality in the phrasing. Its very simplicity tends to invite self-consciousness in the opening piano melody, with some left-before-right-hand emoting, but its purity usually speaks for itself (even if it sometimes takes years to capture). The Scherzo that followed was all one could want, quintessential Mendelssohn, with his sparkling writing given a high polish. The Finale capped off the evening in triumph.
Nothing prepared one for the cyclone of this group’s energy, not even their chosen title of “Allant,” a musical term loosely translated as “going” or moving forward. While I don’t quite agree with their definition as listed in the (uncredited) program notes as “driving” and “energetic”, their name still seems appropriate – they are definitely “going” places!