Poulenc Trio at the National Gallery of Art
Wednesday, May 7, 2008 at 03:13PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • May 6, 2008

The Poulenc Trio
Disparage the music of Francis Poulenc if you want to -- there's still no finer stuff for a beautiful evening in May, when the zephyrs are breezing (or whatever zephyrs do), and the land purely brims with flowers and light and chirping birds. At least, that's how it seemed at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday, when the Poulenc Trio -- oboist Vladimir Lande, with Bryan Young on bassoon and Irina Kaplan Lande at the piano -- brought an intriguing and beautifully played program to the West Garden Court.

The trio opened with two 19th-century works, Beethoven's Trio in B-flat, Op. 11, and Mikhail Glinka's 1832 "Trio Pathetique" in D Minor. It's perhaps not the most natural music for the thin-voiced double reeds, but oboist Lande showed he could turn even the most sweeping, violinistic phrases with convincing elegance. Bassoonist Young was equally adept, but unfortunately was often drowned out by the piano; anyone who's been to a concert at the West Garden Court will attest to the bottom-of-the-well acoustics of the place, which show no mercy to quiet instruments.

The high point of the evening, though, was Poulenc's Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon from 1926. It's an urbane, sophisticated piece that unfolds with near-effortless lightness and grace, and these players clearly have it in their collective bloodstream. Andre Previn's 1994 Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano was less satisfying, though. A conventionally tonal piece that draws on a smorgasbord of styles (a little Schumann, a little jazz, a little Sam Barber), it came across as effortful and eager to impress, and it was a relief when the ensemble returned with Astor Piazzolla's lush, shamelessly seductive "Oblivion."

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