It must be a delight for a composer to have formidable and sensitive musicians to give the world premiere of a work. Such was the case for Zelman Bokser on Tuesday evening at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.
The second concert of Pacific Serenades’ third season featured Bokser’s new, commissioned piece, “Behind the Darkening Clouds,” as played by violinist Rochelle Abramson, cellist Sebastian Toettcher and pianist Gayle Blankenburg. An atonal composition of three movements, the work weaves vigorously through lyrical passages, punctuated by forceful, whole-tone statements. The trio played decisively and brooded where the music demanded it.
The most challenging movement is the last, where Bokser, a UC Irvine music faculty member skilled at creating tension, miraculously kept motion constant, even through silent moments. As well written as it is, “Behind the Darkening Clouds” somehow seems more a showcase for the instrumentalists’ technical and musical prowess than the composer’s writing talent.
The program began with Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. Abramson succeeded in capturing the jazzy charm of the piece, while Blankenburg ably supported on the keyboard, although her playing sometimes seemed too reserved.
Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor was performed by all three with sensitivity and energy. Still, the ensemble at times was not balanced precisely--too much violin and not enough cello.
For an encore, the group played the Scherzo of Mendelssohn’s Trio in D minor. Technically, it was all there, but the tempo was so swift that the music became glossed over and sacrificed for dazzle.