The Raphael Trio is approaching the 40th anniversary of its founding and, perhaps surprisingly, is still at it. As it has done regularly for many years now, the ensemble appeared on the concert series of the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon. The performance was slightly rough and uninspired, and sometimes worse than that.
Two of the piano trios of Brahms brought out the least subtle inclinations of the musicians in terms of balance. Pianist Daniel Epstein hammered away far too often, driving violinist Andy Simionescu to attempt to fight back in terms of sound, with strident results, while cellist Susan Salm was mostly lost in the mix. Intonation issues between the two string players abounded, as in the slow unison passages of the second movement of the second trio, and in the few cello solo moments, including the second movement of the third trio. Glitches here and there pulled the fast movements back and forth in terms of ensemble unity, and the opening of the first movement of the third trio was muddled, eventually coming together. For all the loudness, the tension needed to draw the listener along mostly did not materialize.
In between the Brahms trios, the group gave the local premiere of a recent work for piano trio, “ECHO,” composed by Marjorie Merryman in 2009. Based on a theme derived from the name of the composer’s late husband, the piece had a pleasing melodic sensibility, but an over-reliance on unison passages for the strings was an indication of the general lack of variability in textures.
Downey is a freelance writer.