Trio Solisti has always given the series excellent concerts. But I can’t remember one where the playing pleased me as much as this one. It opened with Haydn’s Trio No. 45, in E-flat Major, represented as Haydn’s last trio, but the more modern catalog disagrees. The music certainly reveals a lifetime of experience, especially as we heard it here. The cello part of Haydn’s trios can seem almost redundant, as they mostly duplicate the piano’s bass lines. But the assertive playing of cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, along with the excellent balance of pianist Fabio Bidini, made certain that the cello lines always registered as an independent voice. Bidini is some kind of keyboard wizard; he can play full out, with the piano lid all the way up, and still not swamp the cello, or the equally prominent violinist Maria Bachmann.
Here’s another plus for Trio Solisti. The ensemble takes repeats that many groups ignore, such as in the first movement of the Haydn, where it was welcome, and in the first movement of the Schubert, where it was also welcome and even more unusual.
Trio Solisti’s Haydn is big and robust, not at all scaled down to match the some received wisom about period performance practice. This can be a dangerous approach, swamping the music, but that definitely didn’t happen here. I enjoyed Big Haydn this time, especially with the good balance and Bidini’s beautiful tone. The lively, spirited finale conveyed Haydn’s jolly temperament and his jarring surprises.
Schubert’s Trio No. 1, in B-flat Major, D. 898, about as familiar as anything in the trio literature, becomes fresh when played this well. Again, the prominent cello balance added texture, and Bidini brought out many hidden lines in the piano part. While Trio Solisti is definitely a 21st-century ensemble, its Schubert incorporated some delicious 19th-century ritards, and they sustained the heavenly lengths of the Andante gorgeously. The Scherzo danced, and the wide dynamics of the finale kept interest alive up to the end of this unusually long trio. Bravo!
I wish I could say that I enjoyed Schumann’s Trio No. 1, in D Minor, Op. 63, as well. The ensemble found just as much vitality and engagement as in the rest of the concert, but this piece rarely works very well for me. Schumann could create endless numbers of original themes with memorable profiles, but the ones in this trio sound like a composer on autopilot. The audience roared its approval.
Incidentally, Bidini needs to revise his biography, which he probably didn’t write himself. He was a finalist in the Van Cliburn Competition, not the winner. I love him anyway. It’s a commonplace that finalists can have bigger careers than winners.
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.