Bagatelles for String Trio

Review by Vance R. Koven

The first half closed with List’s Six Bagatelles for String Trio, performed by Mills and Feldman with Marka Gustavsson on viola. The composer, who teaches at Berklee College of Music in Boston, introduced the work from the stage and stressed his desire to create six little pieces with maximum contrast ranging from “in your face” to “other-worldly.” In this he has largely succeeded: the first bagatelle (he has taken his concept and title from Beethoven and Webern, with a musical style that effectively splits the considerable difference between them) is an introduction, very brief, pitting forceful rhythmic motifs in two instruments in tritone intervals against a more lyrical, though expressionistically intense, idea in the other. In this, there seemed to us to be unacknowledged elements of Bartók.

The second piece, “Canon,” did not sound like an absolutely strict one, but it achieved the effect of sober austerity one often associates with exercises in that form, before a surprisingly and perhaps playfully abrupt petering out.

The third, “Soliloquy,” highlights the viola in a keening, mournful melody accompanied by sustained notes, largely in harmonics. The only breach in the regimen of contrast came with the fourth and fifth pieces, “Interlude” and “Arioso,” which seemed rather similar in affect, with some virtuoso slippery harmonics especially well brought off by Feldman.

The finale saw the return of material from the first number, bringing the entire work to a rounded conclusion, and earning the performers and composer well-deserved applause.