in: Reviews

July 17, 2012

Doing Justice to So-so Repertoire

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Let’s get the name thing out of the way first. Latitude 41 is actually a very clever name for this new ensemble. It gave its first performance at the Newport Music Festival in Newport, R.I. (latitude 41° N) and its cellist lives in Rome (also latitude 41° N). Latitude 41 made its Maverick Concerts debut on Sunday, July 15th at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock. I’ve already been assured that it will be invited back.

The group’s story is a musical romance. Violinist Livia Sohn teaches at Stanford University, pianist Bernadene Blaha at USC in Los Angeles. Cellist Luigi Piovano lives in Italy where, among other positions, he is “first soloist cello” (principal cellist?) of the famous Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra in Rome. But when the three met at a summer music festival, they decided they had to find a way to perform together, and they have. For such a recently formed ensemble (2009), these musicians play like old friends.

In Schubert’s Notturno — part of the ensemble’s first CD — they demonstrated excellent balance and a lovely, refined style, although I thought at moments that the dynamic range might have been a bit too wide for the music. Saint-Saëns’s Trio No. 1, in F Major, op. 18, is a characteristic but early work by that composer, probably included because of Maverick’s French emphasis this season. It’s pretty good music, too, although I don’t find it memorable. Latitude 41 played it with elegant energy and excellent ensemble.

Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A Minor, op. 50, is memorable, but not entirely for the right reasons. There is no denying the sincerity of this work, written in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein, a musician for whom Tchaikovsky had great respect and affection. And there isn’t any weak music in it. Still, I question whether the music is strong enough to sustain its uncommon length, more than 40 minutes. Each of the variations that make up the second movement has its merit, but there are so many of them! Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon. Audiences seem to like this piece. Latitude 41’s performance, which was quite uninhibited, gave Tchaikovsky an excellent chance to succeed. The only flaw I noticed occurred in some passages near the beginning of the second movement, when the piano swamped the strings. Even that might not have been a mistake; not that the string players weren’t fine, which they were, but the piano power contributed to the strongly emotional impression of the music. In fact, sometimes this piece sounded like the piano concerto it perhaps should have been.

I’ll look forward to hearing Latitude 41 again, in music that I find more compelling. But judging from the audience reaction, most of the people at Maverick would be happy to hear the same program again next year.

Leslie Gerber lives in Woodstock, New York. He has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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