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Sibling Revelry
By Paul Rapp

The Ahn Trio
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 10

The Ahn Trio consists of three beautiful, young Korean sisters, who are leaders of the growing movement to sex up classical music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Au contraire, kemosabe! Virtuosic classical music can be a damn sexy thing by itself—add vibrant, modern, pretty performers, and, well, the package can be quite devastating.

Maybe “sexing up” is a bit strong. The Ahns seem to be girls who just wanna have fun, and their thing is a mix of Ms. Lauper, Charlie’s Angels and Marlo Thomas, together with some strong kimchi. They aren’t so much provocative as they are funky and fun. Their Web site has all the bright chirpiness of a teen-pop-star magazine, with lots of pictures of big smiles and carefree ensemble crossings of city streets. And enough bad puns involving their name to make Greg Kihn blush.

None of this would matter a whole lot if the girls didn’t deliver onstage. But deliver they did. Friday night’s program, before a sadly small audience at the Troy Music Hall, began with a tepid run through an arrangement of a Haydn string quartet. There were some intonation problems, and while the three played as an organic unit, things seemed generally tired, and the smiles onstage appeared to be forced, rather than beaming. Which is perhaps understandable, as a mid-tour show for a one-third-full house on a chilly night in Troy is no one’s idea of a career gig. This subdued beginning did allow the music patrons an opportunity to inspect the ensemble’s ensembles: Maria (cello) wore a long, red satin coat with tight, shiny black pants; Lucia (piano, and Maria’s twin) wore a tropical halter number with a brightly striped, long, billowing dress; and Angella (violin) wore hip-hugging leather pants and big-league heels.

The Ahns moved on to material from their most recent album, Ahn-plugged (see what I mean?), and things cranked up immediately. First was Leonard Bernstein’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, written in 1937, when Bernstein was 19. Introduced by Angella as “the reason we don’t try to write our own material,” the piece crackled with ideas and motion. Bernstein was clearly listening to loads of Gershwin and Copland when he wrote this—but there was also plenty of discord (which always seemed to resolve, right on time) and several repetitious and rhythmic passages that foreshadowed what Phillip Glass would make a career out of 40 years later, except where Glass sits on a passage for interminable periods, Bernstein holds an idea long enough for the listener to get the point, and then quickly moves along to something else.

A somber piece titled “Lullaby,” by a composer whose name I didn’t catch, sounded too much like a morbid soundtrack to a melodramatic B-movie to be taken seriously. The Ahns fared better with a cool version of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” (featuring thunder provided by Lucia bouncing a tennis ball on the lower-register strings inside her piano), and a couple of wonderful pieces by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, which were alternatively romantic, wacky and startling. The high point of the show was Eric Ewzen’s “The Diamond World,” a piece written for the Ahns. It incorporated plenty of pop form and convention, but was at the same time as complex and cat-and-mouse as the most rigorous grand-master chamber piece—and it had an ending that could have come out of any great mid-’70s prog-rock record.

The performance became increasingly cohesive and kinetic, gaining grace, natural interplay, and excitement as the evening progressed. The girls were killin’ and by the end, everybody in the house, onstage and off, was smiling easily.

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