There is a lot more to chamber music than good tunes, but they certainly help to create memorable works. Sunday afternoon, July 25, at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, NY, Trio Solisti gave outstanding performances of a couple of lesser works by major composers, both lacking in their composer’s best thematic inspiration, then brought a relatively neglected masterwork to life.
Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op. 88, don’t get played very often. Hearing them in a dazzling live performance, the reasons for their neglect were clear. The music is full of Schumann’s typical style and mannerisms, and there’s nothing overtly wrong with it. But the themes are not Schumann’s most memorable, although there’s a pretty good march tune in the finale. (Schumann became hooked on marches when he was in military school, and you seldom find a work of his without at least a march section.) When the themes that start off pieces aren’t memorable or compelling, the listener doesn’t follow their adventures with great interest. Trio Solisti’s playing was precise, warm, and full of the inflection Schumann needs for his music to come to life. That this music didn’t fly was the composer’s fault, not the performers’.
Chopin had written some excellent small pieces by the time he turned out his Trio in G Minor, Op. 8. But he had an uneasy relationship with large-scale multi-movement works, of which this was apparently his first. The style of the Trio is recognizably Chopin’s, and there’s a nifty mazurka quality to the Scherzo. On the whole, though, this work isn’t first-rate Chopin. You could hardly tell at times during this performance. The third movement Adagio sostenuto was played so expressively that it gave a convincing imitation of the composer’s best work. Trio Solisti played with superb coordination throughout and the kind of virtuosity the music demands. Jon Klibanoff had the piano lid up and his fingers blazing, yet he never drowned out the violin (Maria Bachmann) or cello (Alexis Pia Gerlach). The conclusion was greeted with a roar from the crowd.
Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2, in C Minor, Op. 66, isn’t played nearly as often as his First Trio. Go figure. This is top-drawer Mendelssohn, one of his most powerful large-scale works and inspired all the way. There was plenty of impetus and drive in Trio Solisti’s playing of the music, but it remained flexible and highly expressive. The violin-cello counterpoint in the Andante espressivo was beautifully balanced. Even at the very fast tempo the Scherzo remained light and clear. It’s a pleasure to hear such a big, powerful performance of this great music, which was one of my mother’s favorite chamber music pieces to play and remains one of mine to hear.