Debussy No Evil
8:00pm. I'm in my car rushing to Blackerby for an evening of Claude Debussy's chamber music which starts, oh, maintenant. I clocked out early from work, but I still arrive several minutes late, checking first the front door—locked—and then a slightly ajar back door, which opens directly and highly conspicuously into the rear of the recital hall as applause is dying away. The modestly advertised concert is well-attended, and there are no empty seats for quick and covert assimilation, so I sidle a few feet along the back wall and take out my notepad while the pianist, Mr. Scott Donald, places the first chords of Debussy's Cello Sonata.
Cellist Jon Carbin assumes a serios-O-face and begins laying into the opening flourishes as I document the aesthetics of the room. The stage is plain, long and shallow, with four stately wall lamps evenly spaced along the back wall and a smattering of dim lights recessed into the ceiling, which give the room a sort of soap-opera glow. Scott wears a pale blue shirt and his short-trimmed gray hair sharply contrasts his pink face. The dirty-blond Jon is positioned in the crook of the piano faced front and center; his shirt is a bluer blue which contrasts nicely with his toffee-colored cello. At the back, violinist Caleb Polashek, the third star of the show, turns pages for Scott and brings a textured dark blue-ish shirt to the mix. Under the influence of the washed-out sounds of the composer of La Mer, one is inclined to notice that together they comprise the colors of ocean surf...
A small phalanx of comfy chairs fills the center of the room. To the left and right, two large abstract depictions of violin forms hang high on the walls like garish, green-blue-orange earrings. "Paintings you'd only find in a violin shop," my buddy Dan will later comment.
It's boomy in here—flattering, and, as Jon says, certainly in the interest of a violin dealer—but not so much that the sound is drowned in reverb. Cello is easily heard alongside its full-stick, black lacquer counterpart. There is a vernacular sort of charm in Jon's playing, which highlights the husky nature of his Bronek Cison cello, and, while the performance is polished, it is personality, not discipline, which defines its merit.
At this point, I nab a program and discover that I missed the first piece on the program, La fille aux cheveux de lin, AKA "The girl with the flaxen hair." Scott now performs a second solo piano work, Ondine, a coquettish prelude with dramatic undertones. Afterwards, the piano is taken down to half-stick for the Violin Sonata. Caleb stands to the left of the piano, with loose black slacks and light brown hair slicked and parted. His vibrato is narrow and energetic, with a characteristic vulnerability, and there's a uninhibited naturalness to his technique. In this space, the violin cuts through the air like a katana, and high-strung moments like the first movement's concluding flourish are borderline overwhelming.
During Scott's absorbing and tectonic interlude, a boy in the second row drapes his body over an empty seat in front, occasionally turning with playful eyes to the rows behind him. He finds his fellow audience members peepless, presumably rapt.
All parties come together for the 1879 Piano Trio in G Major which concludes the program. This youthful work is rich and Brahmsian—at times uncannily reminiscent of Brahms' B major Trio, written in Brahms' own early adulthood 25 years prior—and hardly of the impressionistic style which would come to define Debussy's later work. The three make a spectacle of their indulgence, swaying together and locking eyes for one syrupy cadence after another. The piece simply demands it. The plagal cadence towards the end of the final movement draws applause from a few overzealous members of the audience, and smirks cross the faces on stage before the show goes careening to a finish.
I don't think anything is official, but rumor has it these three Austin musicians—each a teacher and performer in his own right—will be making a lot more appearances on the local scene. Keep an eye out for Coronado.