in: Reviews

August 12, 2013

Trio and Solisti at Maverick

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Trio Solisti (file photo)

Trio Solisti (file photo)

The ensemble Trio Solisti has become a Maverick Concerts favorite, returning repeatedly with excellent programs, always well played. But the group has never before offered a program in which only one work included all three performers. This one did, and it was thoroughly satisfying to this listener and the large audience in attendance.

I am always annoyed when Schubert’s Violin Sonatas of Op. Posth. 137 are labeled “Sonatinas.” They are not sonatinas, a different form; they are full-fledged sonatas, deliberately mislabeled by their first publisher Diabelli in hopes of increasing sales to a musical public which was becoming wary of large-scale classical forms. Maverick’s program did say “Sonatina,” but both the excellent program notes by Miriam Villchur Berg and music director Alexander Platt’s spoken introduction set the record straight on this issue. Good for them. Violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff did their own justice to the Sonata in D, D. 384. From the opening notes one could hear that their approach was properly Schubertian, modest and mellow yet with enough drama to keep the music animated. Balance was also excellent. I liked the first movement exposition repeat, and I was also pleased with the songful Andante and the playful finale, which was flexible in rhythm but never to the point of anarchy.

I’ve heard that Copland’s “Piano Variations” was his favorite among all his works. It’s mine, too. For me, nobody has excelled the composer’s own recording, but Klibonoff came close. I was a bit worried by his slow tempo for the opening theme, which could have led to melodrama. But he played the remainder of the work in an uncompromising manner, bringing out all the spiky power of the music and tearing into the few difficult passages with accurate abandon. His sound was huge, a bit surprising since the piano lid was still on the short stick.

Maverick is emphasizing Britten’s music this summer, not only because of the composer’s hundredth birthday anniversary but also because of the summer he spent in Woodstock (1939). Copland was here that summer too and the two composers frequently visited each other and attended Maverick concerts together. (Platt even suggested that Britten’s founding of the Aldeburgh Festival after World War II might have been inspired by Maverick. Could be.) For this concert, Trio Solisti cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach performed the second of Britten’s three Suites for Solo Cello, Op. 80. She mentioned in her introductory conversation with Platt that she had learned the piece specifically for this concert, but there were no signs of unfamiliarity in her playing.

I’ve never spent a lot of time with these Britten Suites, and when I have heard them, they haven’t seemed to be the composer’s best work. Maybe one needs greater familiarity with the music to appreciate it better, because I had great trouble following the two baroque forms (fugue and chaconne) which Britten uses in this piece. Rather than trying to hide the Bach influence, Britten glories in it, from the very beginning Declamato: Largo which mimics the mood and freedom of a Bach Prelude. I’m pretty sure that Britten must also have studied the great Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello of Kodály, reminders of which show up especially in the fourth movement. I wonder if Britten meant the Scherzo to sound as angry as it did in Gerlach’s hands, but maybe he did. Her playing otherwise seemed expressive, outgoing, and totally secure.

The piano lid finally came up for Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, in E Minor, Op. 67. I can only second the comments Platt and Bachmann made about the stature of this work, one of the composer’s greatest and one of the chamber music masterpieces of the 20th century. Although Klibonoff had the theoretical volume advantage of the loudest instrument, he seemed to be playing climaxes with full power yet never swamped the strings. Trio Solisti brought out the grotesque elements of the second movement; the Largo was affecting and not sentimentalized; and the final Allegretto provided an almost overwhelming outpouring of anguish. Just right!

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