It wasn’t obvious, a hundred years ago, that combining the flute, the viola and the harp could produce some of the most beguiling chamber music in existence. But Debussy’s 1915 “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp” — a sonic miracle if there ever was one — changed all that, giving birth to a compelling new genre. And as the San Diego-based Myriad Trio showed Tuesday night in its superb debut at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, it’s a genre of, well, myriad possibilities — and a sound that’s almost impossible not to like.
Take Jan Bach’s “Eisteddfod.” Written in 1972, it opens with a soulful cadenza on the viola (played with quiet intensity by Che-Yen Chen) leading to a richly-colored series of variations that unfold with almost improvisatory naturalness. Imaginative and full of allusions to a range of musical styles, it proved to be an absorbing, relentlessly melodic work, and the easy virtuosic interplay among the players — Chen, flutist Demarre McGill and harpist Julie Smith — only added to the charm.
Any trio of this type has to prove itself with the work that started it all, and the Myriad’s distinctive, deeply personal approach to the Debussy sonata was clear from the first notes of its opening “Pastorale” movement. It’s a free-ranging, deeply sensuous sonata with a streak of feral intensity running through it, and the Myriad gave it a beautifully nuanced and thoughtful performance.
Talent clearly runs in the McGill family; the flutist’s brother Anthony — the principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic — joined the trio for an arrangement of two waltzes by Shostakovich, which proved to be almost shockingly sweet, heartfelt and lacking in the customary Shostakovichian irony. And it was a delight to hear the playful back-and forth between the two brothers in the arrangements of three of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances that followed.
The evening closed with a relatively new work from 2010: David Bruce’s “The Eye of Night.” Each of its four gentle and melodic movements is “a kind of nocturne,” says the composer, who was inspired by the sight of the night sky. Darkly luminous, it moved along with an air of dreamlike mystery before closing in a delicate, peaceful lullaby. A wildly enthusiastic ovation brought the trio back for a full-throttle arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” — pure fun from a talented young ensemble.
Brookes is a freelance writer.