Trio Solisti came to Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Sunday for its tenth annual appearance. One can often count on this group for unusual repertoire and this time it didn’t disappoint.
But the best novelty came from a very familiar name: Dvořák. It’s become a favorite saying of mine that the two must under-appreciated composers in music are Haydn and Dvořák because, although everyone knows them, most of their work goes unheard. I do a lot of Dvořák listening on recordings. I even have a portrait of him hanging in my living room. But I can’t recall the last time I heard his Trio No. 2, in G Minor, Op. 26, in concert.
Despite its relatively early opus number, this is a full-fledged masterpiece, as great as anything the composer wrote. It’s written on an impressively large scale, the first movement alone lasting as long as the average Haydn Trio. Trio Solisti’s playing was big in scope from the very beginning and stayed that way, as the players did an excellent job of integrating the composer’s elaborate structure. The potentially difficult balances were very well achieved, the piano sounding very grand without swamping the strings. I’ve never heard the gorgeous opening of the second movement Largo sounding more beautiful than it did here. The propulsive Scherzo had great power and particularly wide dynamics, while the episodes in the finale were very well characterized. It was hard to imagine that the quality of Trio Con Brio Copenhagen’s playing a few weeks ago would be equaled by another trio this season but there it was, a superb performance of a profoundly beautiful work. The audience didn’t save its usual Standing O for the end of the concert; this performance deserved it.
My encounters with the music of Jennifer Higdon have usually left me puzzled. She is one of the most successful of contemporary American composers: Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Guggenheim, professorship at the Curtis Institute, all the credentials you might want. Her music is expertly crafted, but it leaves me with…well, it just leaves me, hardly a trace left behind after the piece is over. I had the same impression after her Trio No. 2, a 2017 commission for Trio Solisti. It’s in two movements, each named after colors, as was her first Trio. The first movement is White, Debussy with somewhat more dissonance but not all that much. For me, it glided by harmlessly. Blue was more assertive, bouncy and highly syncopated with lots of pizzicato. It grabbed my attention at once but then didn’t do much for me; I felt it was unfocussed and unmemorable. Obviously Trio Solisti is much fonder of this music than I was and it met what challenges the music held successfully. This is non-toxic, unobjectionable music, but if I hear it again in a month I may not recognize it.
There are no surprises left in Schubert’s Trio No. 1, in B Flat, D. 898, one of the most familiar works in the trio literature. So I don’t want to be startled by anything in a performance, just gratified to hear once again how beautiful the music is. There was a mild surprise of sorts when Trio Solisti took the exposition repeat in the first movement, something I’d like to hear done always. Otherwise, my notes on this performance are mostly a catalog of excellences. I loved hearing the perfect quality of Schubert chamber music tone from pianist Fabio Bidini. Good for you, my friend! The opening movement was a bit swifter than usual but never felt rushed. It was taut and dramatic, with wide dynamics, never overstressed. Violinist Maria Bachmann played the opening theme of the slow movement like an angel, soon joined by the equally angelic cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach. I felt moments in the Scherzo might have been a little over-emphatic but nothing set me on edge. And the long finale was just right, superbly paced and with good dynamic contrasts.
Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.