Earlier this year, when the New York Philharmonic announced its 2011-12 season, an outcry surfaced from the classical Twitterati and bloggers: Of the manifold and tempting programs enveloped in the season, not one represented a single female composer.
Understandable though the protest was, another touchier discussion topic emerged among the discourse about tokenism: Would affirmative action be a blessing or a burden for companies? Is it progressive or pandering? Or would it be possible to move into a realm in which programming is gender-blind? (Was that, perhaps, even the case with the Phil’s current season?)
Chicago-based Lincoln Trio doesn’t necessarily attempt to answer any of those questions with Notable Women, but it does assert that there’s no compromise when it comes to compositions whose creators are devoid of a Y-chromosome. Moreover, the six works, each penned by a living female composer, contained herein are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though it’s a tantalizing tip at that.
Four world premiere recordings are focal points of the disc, kicking off with the bewitching Lera Auerbach’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, whose brief first movement (with strings echoing the cries of seagulls) is emotionally detached to a purpose, opening into a cathartic duet between violin and cello full of placid torment. The third movement, written four years later, brings together the previous movements themes with a crashing finale with a Rite of Spring–y determination.
It’s a standard-setter for sure, displaying the technical polish and emotional depth of the Lincolns (Desirée Ruhstrat is a fast-fingered violinist, Marta Aznavoorian a soulful pianist and David Cunliffe a cellist whose polish gives way to moments of artful recklessness). Stacy Garrop’s Seven for piano trio breathes an otherworldly life into its players, a nod to the composer’s love Star Trek Voyager. Perhaps, though, the work that sticks out most is Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio. While the three other tracks (Laura Elise Schwendinger’s atmospheric C’è la Luna Questa Seara?, Augusta Read Thomas’s fleet Moon Jig and Joan Tower’s virtuosic Trio Cavany) are no slouches either, Higdon’s two-movement work is not only indicative of the composer’s uncanny, borderline synesthete ability to coax out a rainbow of yellow and red tones from her instrumentalists, but also the Lincolns’s flair for the same. It’s a work that has been recorded before with equally sharp players, but this particular blend is one of those moments in which you cannot imagine any other musicians take on this work and have it sound so complete. Here there’s no gender, just pure music.