The long-term creative destination of any given composer is more difficult to predict than weather, from Wagner's lofty refinement achieved in Parsifal to Leonard Bernstein's angry repudiation of suburbia in A Quiet Place. Having pioneered electronic music and collaborated with the stylish and abstract choreographer Alwin Nikolais, the 76-year-old Andrew Rudin has progressed to a distinctive place of mystery in his fine piano trio Circadia that premiered Monday at the chamber music series 1807 & Friends.
Rudin's harmonic allegiances sometimes lie in a kind of expressionism that's somewhat out of fashion in the U.S. But Circadia is a piece that is so much itself, and so personal, that fashion isn't a consideration. Like the slow movements of Rudin's Piano Concerto and Viola Concerto, the music doesn't have the unmoored quality of atonality. But it also doesn't go in any of the predictable directions of tonal harmony, either. In Circadia, the opening chords on the piano were both rich and imposing, with a faint whiff of Olivier Messiaen, and repeated with a frequency that suggests a chaconne, but not so slavishly that Rudin would seem to use received forms without being beholden to them.
The four movements are named after times of the day, though the music had so many engaging events with purely musical value that any superficial road map was not needed. Wherever the music careered, it did so with a sure sense of expressive purpose, and with so much overall thrust that you couldn't always tell when one movement ended and another began. As the piece went on, it seemed like a concerto of sorts, the pianist had moments of solo virtuosity amid a regular rhythmic framework provided by the strings, and then turned the tables with the strings having their concerto moments supported by piano. Voice-in-the-wilderness moments - lonely, soliloquylike melodies against a backdrop implying remoteness - aren't unusual with Rudin, but they emerged here with enigmatic richness. The performance by violinist Nancy Bean, cellist Lloyd Smith, and pianist Marcantonio Barone at the Academy of Vocal Arts had confidence not always encountered in premieres.
The rest of the concert was one treat after another. Haydn's Piano Trio in F-sharp minor is the one where the composer recycled one of his best melodies - the slow movement of Symphony No. 102. Schubert's Piano Trio Op. 99 had extraordinary heat, though Smith's reflective second-movement solo poetically built on itself in ways that went to the heart of the piece. Schubert wasn't just his effortlessly melodic self, but a composer matching Beethoven's emotional intensity harnessed in music.