Eroica Trio CD Cover

The Eroica Trio

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.

At the risk of sounding all too sexist and typically male, I must admit that the first thing that caught my eye on the cover of the new EMI Classics compact disc was not its number (CDC 7243 5 56482 2 8) or the names of the composers or compositions, none of which appear on the front at all. The name of the performers is there in modest-size type, but as this is their debut recording for EMI and I never heard of them before, that wasn't the first thing I noticed either.

No, what caught my eye immediately was a photograph of three very good-looking young women, one sitting on a couch, one leaning on a cello, and the third holding a violin. Although these women appear to be professional models, they are, in fact, the Eroica Trio. Surprise No. 1.

The photo on the back cover may be even better than the one on the front. The three women, dressed in stunning, low-cut but discrete gowns, are all smiling. There you can find, in very small type so as not to interfere with the photo, the names of the composers and of the works being performed. And -- Surprise No. 2 -- what a terrific program it is! George Gershwin's "Three Preludes" in a marvelous arrangement for piano trio by the 36-year-old Brazilian-born, Juilliard-trained composer, Raimundo Penaforte; followed by Maurice Ravel's stunning 1914 "Piano Trio;" followed by the sweet, melancholy "Berceuse" from "Jocelyn" by Benjamin Godard; and concluding with "Café Music," a jazzy, tuneful composition by the contemporary American composer, Paul Schoenfield. (I once devoted a "Compact Discoveries" column to Schoenfield, calling it "The New Gershwin?" I only wish he was a more prolific composer!)

The photos on the front and back cover are so pleasing, we haven't even opened the jewel box yet. When we do, we are greeted with still another superb photo of these gorgeous women -- all dressed in black, all smiling. Here is a compact disc company which knows how to take advantage of what is surely the world's best-looking classical trio.

Surprise No. 3 only takes place when you actually listen to the CD. These women really sound as exciting as they look! These pieces are played with fire, with infectious enthusiasm and with consummate skill. It turns out that the Eroica Trio is not the Erotica Trio and does not consist of three models, after all, but of three 100% authentic, fully-pedigreed musicians!

Take Sara Sant'Ambrogio, for example. She represents the latest generation of artists and musicians going back 600 years to Italy's Saint Ambrose, a patron saint of the arts. Her father, who studied with the world-renowned cellist, Leonard Rose, is the principal cellist of the St. Louis Symphony. He was Sara's primary cello teacher until she turned 16.

Then Sara was invited to study with David Soyer, cellist for the Guarneri String Quartet, at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Private tutors were brought in for her to complete her high school education. Three years later Leonard Rose heard her play and invited her to the Juilliard School. Within weeks of her arrival there, she won the all-Juilliard Schumann Competition.

In 1986 Sara won the bronze medal at the International Tchaikovsky Cello Competition in Moscow. As a result, Carnegie Hall invited her to perform during the celebration for the completion of the renovation of Carnegie and Weill Recital Halls. The recital was filmed by the CBS television news magazine show, "West 57th" as part of a profile on Sara.

In 1991 Sara performed on the Grammy-winning Koch International recording of Bernstein's "Arias and Barcaroles." She has appeared as a soloist with such orchestras as the Saint Louis Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Moscow Philharmonic and the Boston Pops.

Sara still plays 10 to 15 concerts outside of the Eroica Trio and writes short fiction. In 1991, while recovering from a broken elbow, she dabbled in acting and landed a role in the Miramax feature, "Winning Colors."

Like Sara, pianist Erika Nickrenz was born into the world of music. Her mother is a concert pianist turned Grammy-winning record producer. Her father is a violist and founding member of the Lenox, Claremont, and Vermeer String Quartets and the Orpheus Trio.

Erika played chamber music throughout her education at Juilliard, where she studied under Abbey Simon and received both her bachelors and masters degrees. She made her concerto debut at age 11 at New York's Town Hall. Much more recently she performed in the "Backstage at Lincoln Center" TV series, narrated by Hugh Downs, aired on PBS' opening night of "Live from Lincoln Center."

Erika has played as a solo artist and chamber musician at numerous festivals, including Marlboro, Tanglewood, and the Spoleto Festival in both Italy and the U.S. She has toured America with "Music from Marlboro" and Australia as a member of Chamber Soloists USA. She has also made recordings for Musical Heritage/Music Masters and ASV London. And since 1991 she has served as Chair of the Music Department at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn Heights, where she has created a rich and all-too-rare chamber music program for pre-college students.

The Trio's violinist, Adela Peña, was born in New York City, where her affinity for the violin became evident when she was just an infant. Her parents were avid fans of violinist Jascha Heifetz, and noticed that Adela would cry every time they turned off one of his recordings. At the age of four she asked for a violin of her own. Years later she entered the pre-college program at the Juilliard School of Music, where she also studied for her bachelors and masters degrees and became a member of the school's first quartet-in-residence.

As a teenager Adela won Juilliard's Mendelssohn Violin Competition, and a few years later she was chosen to represent the U.S. in an international festival of young violinists. She won first prizes in the Washington International and Hudson Valley competitions in 1985, and has played solo recitals at Carnegie Hall, the Philips Collection in Washington, D.C., and throughout Europe and South America. She was featured in a pan-European television broadcast, "Live from the Sorbonne," and has appeared as a soloist with the English Chamber Orchestra, the Caracas Symphony, and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.

In addition to the Eroica Trio, Adela is a member of the New York Philomusica Chamber Ensemble, as well as the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, for which she has served as concertmaster. She can be heard on several CDs released by the New York Philomusica, and in various recordings of the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble on the Deutsche Grammophon label.

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover. But if you select the debut Eroica Trio CD that way, you will not be disappointed. It is beautiful, outside and in.

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