Opus Colorado

The Clavier Trio: Fomin, Castro-Balbi, and Korevaar, are world-class

Since 1950, there have been two chamber groups that have had a profound impact on the world of chamber music, not only because of their incredibly vast repertoire, but because the members of each group were somehow brought together to perform. The earliest of these two chamber groups was the Budapest String Quartet: Joseph Roisman and Jac Gorodetzky, violins; Boris Kroyt, viola; and Mischa Schneider, cello. If they ever needed a pianist for the group, they often included Artur Balsam.

The other chamber group that has had such a profound impact on the art of chamber music is the Beaux Arts Trio. The founding members of the Beaux Arts Trio were Menahem Pressler, piano; Daniel Guilet, violin; and Bernard Greenhouse, cello. The Beaux Arts Trio members changed from time to time for a variety of reasons, but the center artist has always been Menahem Pressler.

Since Bloomington, Indiana, was my hometown, I have heard the Beaux Arts Trio countless times since I was 15 years old. I was also very fortunate to hear the Budapest Quartet. Sunday afternoon, I heard a performance at the CU Boulder College of Music by The Clavier Trio. Its members include Arkady Fomin, violin; Jesus Castro-Balbi, cello; and David Korevaar, piano. Below, are some short bio statements of the members of this trio:

“Violinist Arkady Fomin was born in Riga, Latvia, where he received his musical training at the Latvian State Conservatory with the legendary Latvian pedagogue, Voldemar Sturestep. A founder of Clavier Trio, Mr. Fomin has collaborated in performances with Pinchas Zukerman, Yefim Bronfman, Emanuel Borok, Shlomo Mintz, Atar Arad, David Korevaar, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Andrew Litton and the late Steven De Groote. As violinist and conductor, Mr. Fomin performs in Russia, Latvia, Europe, Japan, and throughout the United States. A member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Fomin is also Professor and Artist-in-Residence at The University of Texas at Dallas, Artistic Director of the New Conservatory of Dallas, and Artistic Director of Conservatory Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado. Arkady Fomin is recipient of the Cowlishaw Artist-in-Residence Award for artistic achievement and contributions to the City of Dallas.”

“Dr. Castro-Balbi is a graduate of the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Lyon (France), Indiana University at Bloomington, Yale, and of The Juilliard School, where he also served on the Pre-College faculty. He studied cello with Aldo Parisot and Janos Starker and chamber music with Boris Berman, the late Rostislav Dubinsky, Joseph Kalischtein, Fred Sherry and members of the Amadeus, Juilliard, Ravel and Tokyo String Quartets. Together with his wife, pianist Gloria Lin and son Joaquín he resides in Fort Worth, where he is the cello professor at Texas Christian University.

“A passionate chamber musician, Dr. Castro-Balbi is the cellist of the Castro-Balbi/Lin Duo with pianist Gloria Lin and of Clavier Trio with violinist Arkady Fomin and pianist David Korevaar. Dr. Castro-Balbi is the founder and director of the TCU Cello Ensemble and of the Faculty & Friends Chamber Music Series, a showcase of collegiality and excellence at TCU. Festivals include La Jolla SummerFest in California; Mimir in Fort Worth, Texas; Norfolk, Connecticut; Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado; Aguascalientes, Mexico; the Bartók Festival in Szombathely (Hungary); the Caracas (Venezuela), Manchester (England), and Beauvais (France) international cello festivals, and the Isaac Stern Third International Chamber Music Encounters in Jerusalem, Israel.”

“David Korevaar began his piano studies at age six in San Diego with Sherman Storr, and at age 13 he became a student of the great American virtuoso Earl Wild. By age 20 he had earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, where he continued his studies with Earl Wild and studied composition with David Diamond. He completed his Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School with Abbey Simon. Another important mentor and teacher was the French pianist Paul Doguereau, who had been a student of Egon Petri, and who had studied the music of Fauré and Debussy with Roger-Ducasse (a pupil of Fauré’s), and the music of Ravel with the composer.

“Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Colorado in 2000, Korevaar taught for many years at the Westport School of Music in Connecticut, where he was Artist-Teacher. He now lives in Boulder, CO with his family. David Korevaar presented his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 2007, as well as his German recital debut at the Heidelberg Spring Festival. Mr. Korevaar has been heard at major venues in New York including Weill Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Town Hall, and Merkin Concert Hall. He has performed across the United States from Boston, New York and Washington, DC to Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Dallas and San Diego, and he plays frequently in his home state of Colorado with orchestras, in chamber ensembles and in solo recitals.”

This trio is absolutely without question world-class. No doubt, there will be some of you readers who will say that they cannot be world-class because the pianist is from Boulder, not New York or Paris or Salzburg, and the other two musicians, Fomin and Castro-Balbi, are presently from Texas. I am well aware, as I have written before, of the old cliché, that one cannot be good at anything unless one has to travel from far away. That, I assure you, is utter nonsense.

The Clavier Trio opened their recital with a work by Franz Joseph Haydn: the Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27 (1797).

Note that instead of an opus number, there is an Hob. number. The Hob. number refers to Anthony Van Hoboken, who was a Dutch engineer. He also studied music in Frankfurt and Vienna, and began collecting additions of music beginning with Bach and (essentially) ending with Brahms. This collection of over 5000 items is now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The Haydn works catalogue is entitled Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis (3 vols., Mainz: Schott, 1957-78). The Hoboken catalogue uses a double-numbering system. Works are first grouped by genre and then by number. A Roman numeral is used to indicate the group. It is interesting to note that Haydn, himself, began a thematic catalog of his own works, but it was never completed, and oddly enough, contains a few errors!

During his stay in England in the early 1790s, Haydn composed eleven new piano trios, and he seems to have lavished all of his incredible talents on these remarkable compositions. The instant The Clavier Trio began to perform, I was absolutely struck by the amazingly clear phrasing and pedaling by David Korevaar. The phrases were shaped delicately by dynamics, and each Haydn-esque motive was separated by very adroit pedaling and keyboard touch. In fact, everyone in this trio was remarkable in having the same concept of dynamics and phrasing. I was also struck by the sound of the violin; it was full and warm, and so beautiful, that it fit everything that was performed on the program.

There are some instruments that are better for some composers than others, but that simply does not apply to Mr. Fomin’s violin. (After the program, I asked Arkady Fomin what kind of violin he had, and he said it was new to him, and I believe that he said that it was a Grancino). For those of you who are not familiar with this violin maker, Grancino was a student of Niccolo Amati. Mr. Fomin gladly showed me his violin, which was built in 1690 (!), and it was absolutely beautiful. He also said that this particular violin was noted for being in almost original shape.

What was so striking about the first movement was the sameness of concept and musical ideas that each member exhibited as they played. That is the same thing that sets the Beaux Arts Trio and the old Budapest Quartet apart from chamber groups today. The members of The Clavier Trio truly seemed to be in total mental and musical coordination. I point out that it takes a great deal of musical understanding and skill to perform this way. Yes, it’s true that the more one performs with whatever musical partners one has, the more confidence grows, but I assure you that it is an absolute joy to listen to, and it is instantly recognizable.

The slow movement of this trio is in three parts, and is full of accents where one does not expect them. The center section is somewhat stormy with many surprising key changes. Again, this movement reflected that all three of these musicians had not just mastered their instruments, but they fully understood what to do with Haydn’s humor, and how to allow each other to express their ideas while staying within the scope of Haydn. The cellist was absolutely remarkable in this movement: his tone was clear and lyrical. There was never a hint that one member of the trio might cover up the other two; it just never happened. One was left with the feeling that the audience was being given a presentation on why Haydn is such a great composer, and why The Clavier Trio likes his music so much. All of this is a very difficult thing for a chamber group to express, and it is what made the Beaux Arts Trio and the Budapest Quartet so wonderful to listen to.
The last movement of the Haydn was full of Haydn’s humor and incredible technical demands on each musician. Korevaar, Fomin, and Castro-Balbi played with great energy and spirit, and with intense focus. Every entrance and phrase ending was done impeccably. In fact, their playing was so startlingly good, I must admit that I sharpened my ears just to see if they would make a mistake. They didn’t. Now, if one asks them after the performance if they were satisfied, they may point out the minutest of details that they might change. But, you must understand that musicians of such caliber are always concerned with the smallest detail.

Following the Haydn, was a three movement work by the American composer, Paul Schoenfield. Schoenfield is a native of Detroit, and for a time, the main thrust of his musical life was concertizing on the piano. He studied with Rudolph Serkin. Quoting from his website:

“Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. His recordings as a pianist include the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels. A man of many interests, Paul Schoenfield is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew.”

Schoenfield’s work is a three movement composition entitled Café Music. This is the first time I have heard this composer’s work, and I was totally unprepared for the surprising character of this piece. It was an absolutely glorious rag, infinitely more sophisticated than the well-known rags of Joplin. It had an overtone of French jazz that was so popular in the 1920s and 30s, but it is infinitely more difficult. It certainly was a tonal piece, but the jazz chords were often infused with modern harmonies and the structure, with modern ideas. Keep in mind, that this was the first time I ever heard this work, but the transitions between themes seem to always employ the most avant-garde harmonies, and then, with the return of the theme, the rag idiom and harmonies would reappear. The first movement is marked Allegro, and The Clavier Trio had a rather quick interpretation of the tempo marking, but it was a very natural sound, I assure you.

The slow movement, marked Rubato – Andante Moderato, was a slow stride, with incredibly sweet sounding string work from the violinist and cellist, whose mellifluous qualities were given emphasis by the slow stride rhythm from the piano. The harmonies were incredibly lush with a little bit of dissonance and deceptive resolutions. The Clavier Trio’s playing is so crystal clear, that every nuance and harmonic change could be heard very easily.

The last movement, marked Presto, was a blindingly fast blues/rag. The tempo taken by The Clavier Trio was absolutely breathtaking, considering the technical difficulties that each of these musicians faced in this last movement. It is extremely difficult writing. They never faltered, their entrances were always together, and the insistence of the driving rhythm never failed. It was exciting to listen to and a joy. David Korevaar’s pedaling was perfect in this last movement (as it was throughout the whole recital), and I bring it up, because clarity in this last movement is absolutely essential, and I think many lesser pianists would have had difficulty. Mr. Korevaar did not, and Mr. Fomin and Mr. Castro-Balbi, even though they were hard at work, were impeccable.

For some time, everyone has known that Brahms was very careful to destroy not only his letters that he did not want anyone else to read, but also early sketches, and even complete works, that he thought were unworthy. The Piano Trio in B Major, Opus 8, is a youthful work which was revised thirty-four years later at the invitation of his publisher, Simrock. It is this revision of the earlier work (which was also criticized by Clara Schumann) that is most often performed today. Like Brahms’ other trios, it is in four movements. The second movement, which is a Scherzo, gives this work an almost symphonic feel. In fact, the first movement has so many themes, that it is easy to consider it symphonic in scope. The Clavier Trio performed this work with the required balance, and the wonderful cello playing supported the very passionate work of Mr. Fomin, the violinist. Throughout this work, The Clavier Trio showed profound musicianship which reminded me of the performances that I have twice heard by the Beaux Arts Trio. Why? Because the concept that The Clavier Trio has of Brahms struck me as being identical to the concept that Pressler, Guilet, and Greenhouse had. The last movement has some very dark and mysterious writing, and Korevaar emphasized this with very subtle changes in tone. I have a recording of this trio with the Beaux Arts Trio performing, though Isidore Cohen has replaced Daniel Guilet as violinist (this recording was done in 1986, and I am not sure what year Daniel Guilet left the trio. I first heard the Beaux Arts Trio perform this trio in 1958). At any rate, the sameness of concept and sound between the Beaux Arts Trio and The Clavier Trio is amazing.

Again, I am sure there will be those who read what I have written, and think that the comparison of  The Clavier Trio to the Beaux Arts Trio is nonsense. I would invite all of those individuals to attend a Clavier Trio performance after spending some time listening to the Beaux Arts Trio recordings.

There was a decent audience in Grusin Hall, but truthfully, it should have been larger. I think that The Clavier Trio should perform regularly in Denver, so that Denver audiences will hear more chamber music that is world class. I say more, because there are already some very good chamber organizations in the city and the Metro area. But The Clavier Trio, and I do not intend to take anything away from any of the other organizations, is absolutely world-class.