Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 6, 2024

REVIEW: Valley Classical Concerts, "Merz Trio"

Smith College, Northampton, MA
February 4, 2024
by Michael J. Moran

Merz Trio
Founded in 2017 and named after a German collage artist, this Boston-based ensemble “juxtaposes classical standards, new music, and their own arrangements of familiar and forgotten works,” according to their program note. This concert, with a “Night Songs” theme (said cellist Julia Yang in opening remarks), was a textbook example of that eclectic philosophy.

It began with a suite of six short meditative pieces, mostly arranged by the Trio and played without pause. A haunting account of German mystic Hildegard von Bingen’s 11th-century hymn “O Fiery Spirit” was followed by: a rhapsodic “Andantino” solo by pianist Amy Yang from Robert Schumann’s 1845 “Six Studies in Canonic Form;” a mesmerizing “Hush No More,” from Henry Purcell’s 1692 opera “The Fairy Queen;” a lush take on Alma Mahler’s 1911 song “Mild Summer  Night”; a soulful “Round Midnight,” Thelonius Monk’s 1943 masterpiece; and a luxurious version of Alexander Zemlinsky’s 1897 song “Conception." The Trio’s singing in several selections deepened the suite’s nocturnal spell.  

Next came a vibrant interpretation of Schumann’s 1847 Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, which featured: an expansive opening movement, briefly quoting his song “Intermezzo,” Op. 39/#2; a radiant slow movement, which came across as a lullaby; a mercurial waltz-like third movement “in moderate tempo;” and a lively, almost explosive finale.

The program closed with an impassioned reading of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, written in 1853-54 after the 20-year-old Brahms first met Robert and his composer-pianist wife Clara Schumann, but substantially revised in 1889. The Merz Trio offered: a vigorous opening “Allegro con brio;” a supercharged “Scherzo,” with a delicately nuanced interlude; a hushed, nocturne-like “Adagio;” and a turbulent “Allegro” finale.

Noting that “we can’t leave you in B minor” (the key on which Brahms’ finale ended), violinist Brigid Coleridge introduced as an encore the Trio’s luminous arrangement of Richard Strauss’s ravishing 1894 song “Morgen” (“Tomorrow”).

Along with their inventive programming, this threesome is notable for the rare mix of intensity and balance in their performances, with every instrument always clearly heard in this storied venue’s flattering acoustic.    

The next concert in Valley Classical’s 45th season will take place on February 24, 2024.