jon kimura parker

Montrose Trio review: passion restrained

Chamber Music Northwest concert offers surprisingly refined approach to youthful works by Brahms, Beethoven and Shostakovich

by JEFF WINSLOW

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker has been on my favorites list ever since he came to Portland Piano International’s 2004 summer festival and roared through his custom-built solo arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s legendary orchestral score, The Rite of Spring, encoring with an equally manic performance of Danny Elfman’s theme for the TV show The Simpsons. Even onstage with the august Oregon Symphony some years ago, he interpolated a catchy tune from their opening number into his cadenza while performing a Mozart piano concerto.

The man is clearly passionate about his work and his audience, so it was no surprise he was tapped to introduce the final concert of Chamber Music Northwest’s 2017 winter festival “Passion in Winter,” by the Montrose Trio – Parker plus the two non-retired members of the former Tokyo String Quartet, Martin Beaver and Clive Greensmith – the last Sunday in January. He was completely natural, more like a man spinning a tale in a bar than expounding on classical music to a darkened, packed concert hall. Passion was the theme binding together the three works they played, all initial essays in chamber music by lusty (and lustful) young men at the beginnings of their careers.

Montrose Trio performed at Chamber Music Northwest’s Winter Festival. Photo: Tom Emerson.

So it was surprising that what was immediately apparent, as they slipped into the seductive (or leering) opening phrases of the teenage Dmitri Shostakovich’s op. 8 piano trio, was Parker’s smooth and nuanced delivery, blending effortlessly with the violin and cello parts. When an unmistakable love song broke out in the strings partway through, the piano’s accompanying chordal stream was like ice crystals delicately wafted on a breeze. Even the contrasting fast sections, stormy and erratic by turns, were unexpectedly restrained.

The wisdom of this approach was borne out in the end. The work’s apparent grand climax is worthy of a noir B-movie in which the gritty hero, having barely vanquished the heavy in the nick of time, plants a fierce smooch on the damsel in distress behind a bold THE END as the orchestra quickly swells in triumph. By holding back just a little here, the players moderated such corniness just enough to shift attention to the final climax, furious and much more ambiguous emotionally.

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