ROCKPORT — Stefan Jackiw, violinist of the JCT Trio, must be very good at sleeping on planes. That, or he’s tapped into some boundless well of energy the rest of us can only dream of. As Rockport Music artistic director Barry Shiffman explained from the stage of the Shalin Liu Performance Center before the trio (which pronounces its name “Junction”) started its Sunday afternoon concert, Jackiw had flown in from Korea just the day before. His next stop was Germany, for a Mozart concerto later this week.
His trio mates, the cellist Jay Campbell and pianist Conrad Tao, are also familiar with haywire schedules; with Campbell in the JACK Quartet and Tao performing, composing, and curating all over the place, neither has any shortage of gigs. But watching the trio perform, one really couldn’t tell who was happier to be there — the rapt audience or the musicians, who threw themselves into repertoire they clearly love.
The itchy glissandos and dissonant chimes of Christopher Trapani’s brief “Passing Through, Staying Put” started things off. Charles Ives’s Piano Trio followed, after a few animated remarks from Jackiw. The trio blasted through the scherzo, a quintessential Ivesian clangor that mashes together a whole sheaf of folk tunes and hymns. The third movement burned slowly with yearning for an ineffable something, and Campbell’s cello glowed with understated sweetness. In that moment, the 100-plus-year-old piece felt as ageless as the sea outside.
As for Dvorák’s Piano Trio No. 3, I have never heard any performance of a standard repertoire piece that was so unconcerned with sounding beautiful. The trio played on a knife edge. Sprawling across the keys and surging off the bench, Tao’s stage presence was the most extroverted of the three — unusual for a piano trio, in which pianists more often sit calmly in the eye of the hurricane. This was a perfect setup for the very Bohemian-sounding scherzo, in which the piano has an initial starring role; he dispatched it in a series of carefully controlled explosions. Supporting him, Jackiw and Campbell hopped through restless bowed triplets, then ripped into their own striding melody.
In the third movement, the players didn’t luxuriate in the slow melodies. Instead, with the strings applying just a hint of vibrato, and Tao’s unhurried but unrelenting momentum driving the sound, its power lay in its ephemeral nature. These three are onto something special.
Presented by the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. At Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, Sunday. 978-546-7391, www.rockportmusic.org
Zoë Madonna can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.