Paul Chihara composes for films. Film scores must support the narrative and communicate emotion. And it must do it in a way that instantly connects with the viewer. That skill set works well for Chihara in the classical world, too.

His compositions have a transparency to them that draws the listener in. The surface may be clear, but there’s plenty of substance below it. Chihara wrote that his piano trio is based on the Mobius strip images by MC. Escher. The music moves through a series of variations and transformations. As with a Mobius strip, it’s easy to trace the journey, even though each turn adds a new revelation.

The Bagatelles are just pure fun. The average playing time of each bagatelle is around a minute. And each one concise and tightly constructed. Each one is appealing, and collectively they make an enjoyable listening experience.

The Girl for Yerevan was commissioned by Armenian violinist Movses Pogossian. The trio’s name references Joao Gilberto’s famous piece. It also mixes Armenian folk music into the Latino vibe, with a hint of Khachaturian for good measure. Movses Pogossian and guitarist David Starbin — two of the three premiering artists — perform here.

“Ellington Fantasy” for string quartet is just that — a weaving together of Duke Ellington tunes. Chihara does a masterful job. His writing works quite well for a string quartet, letting the performers have some fun with the material.

And its music with a purpose. Chihara worked with Mercer Ellington in the show Sophisticated Ladies.” Mercer had wanted to arrange his father’s music for string quartet but ended up turning the project over to Chihara.

For audiences who enjoy the light classics of Canadian Brass, the Piano Guys, etc. this is a perfect string quartet piece. Personally, I’m not that enamored of that genre, so it didn’t do much for me. But I thought the rest of the album was terrific.

Paul Chihara: Take the A Train
Gavin String Trio; Jerome Lowenthal, piano; Lark Quartet
Bridge Records