July 26, 2023

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts Continues Season with Wind Trio

By Nancy Plum

There is a tremendous amount of music for string trios and quartets, but repertoire for two wind instruments and piano is much more limited. The ensemble Poulenc Trio, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been redefining the wind trio genre through performance and commissioning of works for oboe, bassoon, and piano. Oboist Alexander Vvedenskiy, bassoonist Bryan Young and pianist Irina Kaplan Lande came to Princeton last week to present a program of French music from the 19th through the 21st centuries. Whether a standard from a master or a newly-commissioned piece inspired by the French chamber tradition, the concert performed on Wednesday night’s concert at Nassau Presbyterian Church made for a refreshing summer evening.

Combining oboe, bassoon, and piano created a unique palette of unusual timbres and harmonies. Poulenc Trio opened Wednesday night’s performance with the 1994 Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano of French composer Jean Françaix, whose music often reflected significant events in his own life. In this Trio, the sound of Young’s bassoon was comparatively mellow, with Vvedenskiy’s oboe playing providing a melodic edge to the three-movement work. The chipper opening “Allegro” evoked a fun day along the Seine River, with the two wind instruments chasing each other in melodic runs. Young provided a languid bassoon line in the second movement “Andante,” subtly accompanied by pianist Lande, and the final movement drew quick and nimble playing from all members of the Trio.

Recognizing the need to develop the repertory of this type of ensemble, Poulenc Trio has commissioned more than 30 pieces over the past 20 years. Two recent commissions have been from composers with strong Princeton connections. Viet Cuong, whose Explain Yourself was written for the Trio in 2019, holds degrees from Princeton University and has been extremely active as a composer in recent years. Cuong describes himself as an admirer of the 20th-century French compositional school, and the one-movement Explain Yourself was an homage to master French composer Francis Poulenc. Cuong incorporated inventive gestures and effects into this piece, including requiring the oboe and bassoon to play in a multiphonic style — generating more than one note at the same time, which is rarely asked of wind instruments. Vvedenskiy and Young also executed parallel dissonances as the music rolled along, punctuated by dramatic silences. There was consistently crisp interplay among the three musicians, with an especially elegant duet between oboist Vvedenskiy and pianist Lande. Cuong’s imaginative style was also tinged with a bit of klezmer effect and offbeat tango flavor.

Poulenc Trio paired Cuong’s innovative work with a composition by another Princeton University composer, Juri Seo, who borrowed melodic material from Poulenc’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano to create the impressionistic 2021 Mélodie de Poulenc. Throughout the piece, Lande’s piano lines were especially fluid, contrasted by Vvedenskiy and Young expertly handling the difficult technical demands.

Poulenc Trio turned to the French master himself with a performance of selected songs of Francis Poulenc, arranged for oboe, bassoon, and piano by the Trio musicians and by composer and arranger Dietrich Zöllner. The three transcribed songs were melodic in character, suggesting a Parisian cabaret. The opening “Les chemins d’amour” featured an expressive oboe melody contrasted by bassoon and accompanied by a lush and flowing piano. Melodic responsibilities were reversed in the closing “Toréador,” in which an energetic bassoon melody was answered by oboe, and the three instruments collaborated together to create a Spanish atmosphere.

Poulenc Trio closed the program with a Fantaisie Concertante on themes from Gioacchino Rossini’s opera Semiramide, arranged by oboist Charles Triébert and bassoonist Eugène Jancourt, both contemporaries of Rossini in Paris. Rossini’s opera overtures are traditionally full of humor and wit, which Triébert and Jancourt effectively captured in this Fantaisie and which was well conveyed by the musicians of Poulenc Trio. Saucy melodies abounded from all instruments, and a dual cadenza between oboe and bassoon was clean. The Trio players well handled the typical frenetic Rossini “speed-up” toward the end of the work, closing an entertaining evening of both complex and refined chamber music.

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts will close the 2023 season on Friday, July 28 at 7:30 p.m. with a performance at Nassau Presbyterian Church by the Dali String Quartet. This concert will feature music of Schubert, Piazzolla, and Tchaikovsky and is free to the public, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Further information about the Summer Chamber Concerts series can be found by visiting princetonsummerchamberconcerts.org.