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Sometime necessity forces interesting innovation, and the Chirusca Trio, made up of violinist Hsiao-mei Ku, cellist Leonid Zilper and pianist Ray Kilburn, took advantage of a problem and converted it to an interesting concert. The name Chirusca stands for China, Russia and Canada, the national origins of the three members.
What was planned to be a traditional program of piano trio music had to be changed drastically when Kilburn, formerly of Peace College and now teaching at Ball State University, developed serious problems with his vision and had difficulty seeing the score. Out went Brahms, and in came...Alexander Arutiunian and Astor Piazzola.
How necessary this change was became evident in the opening two selections left over from the original program. Franz Schubert's two fragments for piano trio, the Sonatensatz in B flat, D.28 and the Adagio (Notturno) in E flat, D.897 require very close coordination and perusal of the score, and Kilburn lost his place a number of times.
The Sonatensatz is a curiosity with not much musical interest. Written when the composer was 15 before he developed his own musical language, it is modeled after the music of pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, one of the musical lions of the period. The Adagio is a late work, probably a discarded movement for the B flat Piano Trio composed at the same time. The slow opening, sotto voce, was played beautifully by Ku and Zilper. It was in the stormy middle section that Kilburn got into serious trouble because of his eyesight.
But then things got much better, with works where memory works better and reading the score less critical. The Trio wanted to perform some music from their three respective countries. Zilper and Kilburn performed a Sentimental Waltz by Tchaikovsky, with Zilper milking it for all the composer's famous sentimentality. The two then performed for contrast a fiery Georgian Folk Dance by the Armenian composer Aleksander Arutiunian (b.1920).
Canada was represented by French-Canadian François Morel (b.1926), whose piano work Etude de Sonorité of 1952 takes off where Bartók's Allegro Barbaro ends, with shades of Olivier Messiaen's colorful pianism in the middle section. It is an interesting work, and Kilburn, playing from memory, relished the piece with wild and exciting performance.
A few months ago we heard Ku and Kilburn perform Improvisations by Chinese composer, conductor and violinist Kang-nian Tang in Nelson Auditorium, and they repeated it in this concert. Based on a Chinese rural folk dance, it is a real fiddle piece, a kind of Chinese bluegrass.
The program ended with what was billed as a Piano Trio by Argentina's tango wizard, Astor Piazzola, arranged by cellist Jose Bragato, who was the cellist in Piazzola's tango orchestra. The four pieces, Primavera Porteña, Oblivion, Otoño Porteño and Revolucionario, while originally published together, proved a cardinal rule: Four pieces for piano, violin and cello do not a Piano Trio make. They were simply four independent pieces, originally scored for the bandoneon and accompaniment, here dressed incongruously in the staid lacings of a piano trio. The musicians had great fun performing them and they were fun to hear.