Paintings are fixed, yet aspire to movement; music is forever moving, yet aspires to artistic objectivity. Hence paintings based on music and vice versa, each borrowing the other’s essential qualities. Bruce Wolosoff’s “The Loom,” premiered by the Eroica Trio (violinist Sara Parkins, cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, and pianist Erika Nickrenz) at the Gardner Museum on Sunday, continues that tradition. Its inspiration — watercolors by American artist Eric Fischl — received full co-billing: Both Wolosoff and Fischl were in attendance; reproductions of the watercolors were handed out with the programs; introducing the piece, Wolosoff talked of how the images were at the center of his process, how he “heard” different paintings in specific keys.
In another way, though, the works were contrasts as much as complements. Fischl’s figurative paintings — of dancers — are, nonetheless, fluid and sketchy to the point of near-abstraction. Wolosoff’s music went in the other direction. “The Loom,” with its thoroughgoing tonal posture, bespoke fundamental faith in basic tropes of implied musical narrative: bright major, dark minor, the familiar gravities of diatonic harmonies.
It opened with pastel buoyancy, long lines over flitting accompaniments. The second movement (for which Fischl created an additional painting) was straightforward confrontation: soft and loud, plaintive and angry, simply juxtaposed. The third movement was similar, the themes a rueful, descending progression and a pop ballad. The construction was cinematic, cutting between static scenes and moods. The finale was the most expansive and exploratory; if the jazz-tinged harmonies encased in right-angle rhythms were tidier than Fischl’s washes, they still evoked something of the choreographic trajectory of the eye around the image. The performance was confident, sympathetic, collegial. (Wolosoff, a skilled pianist himself, studied with the same teacher as Nickrenz, and has accompanied and composed for Sant’Ambrogio.)
The group surrounded Wolosoff’s ambience with 19th-century gems. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Op. 11 Trio is the young composer at his most deliberately charming; the performance, aggressively crisp, was more like a grown-up playing a children’s game, and playing to win.Josef Suk’s Op. 23 “Elegie” was comfortably lush, the players inhabiting the placid-then-turbulent Romanticism with assurance. The second half featured Suk’s Czech countryman, Bedrich Smetana, and his enormous Op. 15 Trio in G minor; the dramatic cast might be grim and foreboding, but the score — and the performance — spilled over with athletic exuberance. It was a cross between a striking landscape and an action painting, the brush strokes slashing past the edge of the canvas and even the frame.
Matthew Guerrieri can
be reached at matthew