ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Trio Solisti, a “trio of soloists,” has forged its reputation as “the most exciting piano trio in America” (The New Yorker) with a performance style that combines exceptional virtuosity and penetrating musical insight. Possessing a repertoire that encompasses most of the standard trio repertoire as well as many new works by contemporary composers, rave reviews follow the ensemble throughout its concert tours.
The Strad magazine wrote of the trio’s interpretation of Brahms Trios, “Trio Solisti plays this glorious music with rare commitment and insight — the free-flowing adrenaline has one on the edge of one’s seat.” Fanfare magazine acclaimed its recording of music by Paul Moravec, saying, “These performances are really almost beyond belief.” Noted Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout proclaimed, “To my mind, Trio Solisti has now succeeded the Beaux Arts Trio as the outstanding chamber music ensemble of its kind.”
Founded in 2001, Trio Solisti (made up of violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, and pianist Fabio Bidini) has performed at many of America’s important concert venues and cultural institutions: Great Performers at Lincoln Center, the Washington Performing Arts Society at Kennedy Center, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the People’s Symphony Concerts at Town Hall, Seattle’s Meany Hall, and La Jolla’s Revelle Series, to name a few. The ensemble has been described by The New York Times as “consistently brilliant” and praised by The Washington Post for its “unrelenting passion and zealous abandon in a transcendent performance.”
The newest addition to Trio Solisti’s rapidly growing discography is Dvořák Trios, released on Bridge Records in 2012. Critics swooned: “This is brilliantly performed.” (International Record Review); “I cannot praise this recording highly enough.” (Fanfare Magazine). Pictures at an Exhibition, on Endeavour Classics, features Trio Solisti’s original arrangement of Mussorgsky’s monumental solo piano work. Café Music, on Bridge Records, is an assortment of music including Paul Schoenfield’s jazzy Café Music surrounded by dancy and songful works by Piazzolla, Turina, and Gershwin. Brahms Trios, the ensemble’s debut album, features performances of two of the composer’s masterpieces.
Trio Solisti actively collaborates with some of today’s leading composers. Paul Moravec has written a number of works for the group, notably Tempest Fantasy, for which he received the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, the trio gave the premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s Piano Trio No. 3, commissioned by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. Earlier that season, Chamber Music Monterey Bay commissioned and presented the premiere of Living Frescoes, a work by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts for piano trio and clarinet, inspired by visual artist Bill Viola.
Above and beyond performing together and individually at music festivals across the world, Trio Solisti founded Telluride MusicFest, an annual chamber music festival in the mountains of Colorado, at which the ensemble presents two weeks of performances with celebrity guest artists. Trio Solisti is Ensemble-in-Residence at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, an honor that includes the presentation of concerts and master classes and in-depth work with student composers.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Beethoven’s work is traditionally divided into early, middle, and late periods. Up to 1800 or so, his music was influenced by the prevailing styles of the era, as well as by individual composers such as Mozart, Haydn, and Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). In his middle period, Beethoven came into his own personal, nonderivative style. Compositions from this period include his Second and Third Symphonies, the Violin Sonatas of Op. 30, and piano sonatas including the “Moonlight” Sonata.
The period from 1806 to 1808—the middle of Beethoven’s middle period—was extremely productive. He wrote the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, the “Appassionata” Piano Sonata, the Op. 69 Violin Sonatas, and the three String Quartets of Op. 59. He was established as a great composer, unable to keep up with all the commissions and requests from publishers.
Beethoven changed the piano trio from an amateur exercise into a virtuoso showcase, particularly for his own brilliance on the piano. He also freed the cello from its earlier role of merely repeating the bass line along with the keyboard.
The first movement (Allegro vivace e con brio) of the Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, starts with a remarkable and surprising transition. After only four bars of the opening D major theme, there is a sustained F, a note that is completely foreign to the tonality. That note becomes a hinge on which the music shifts in an entirely new harmonic direction and presages similar tonal shifts found in the composer’s late works.It is the slow second movement (Largo assai ed espressivo) that gives the trio its nickname of “Ghost.” Its minor key, halting introduction, chromatic runs, and spare sound add to the dramatic eeriness of the themes. Beethoven wrote parts of this movement on the same page in his notebooks as sketches for a planned opera based on Macbeth.
Although Beethoven often wrote piano trios with four movements (lending them the grander scale of string quartets and symphonies), he chose a compact three-movement design for this work. The Presto dispels the ethereal quality of the middle movement, and provides a sunny and exciting finale.
Johannes Brahms was a unique figure in music history. Some composers, such as Beethoven, are innovators, taking music into territories uncharted and unimagined by their contemporaries. Others, such as J. S. Bach, are what we might call synthesizers, taking the music of their time and refining it into an art form that exemplifies the era. Brahms was both. He studied the masters of the Baroque and Classical eras, and sought to emulate the excellence of their musical technique. At the same time, he introduced a harmonic language unlike anything that had ever been heard.
Brahms was also a perfectionist. We have no idea how many compositions he destroyed before he was finally satisfied that his work was good enough for the public. The Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 101, was the last of three such works that Brahms composed (and allowed to be published).
In the opening Allegro energico, Brahms uses motifs made of the smallest fragments of music—a three-note phrase, or an ascending five-note major scale — as the seeds for an entire movement of forceful majesty. This is the shortest of his piano trios. In his last years, Brahms was becoming more terse and economical in his writing.
In the second movement (Presto non assai), Brahms once again starts with just a few notes, in a different rhythmic pattern. This time he explores a more spare sound, with short, halting phrases, pizzicato (plucked) strings, and quiet, ethereal sounds.
The slow movement (Andante grazioso) again uses the basic materials of music. But instead of a few notes or a scale, we find the next level of organization — the three ascending notes of a chord to open the first theme, and a descending scalar figure to start the second. Out of these he fashions cantabile (song-like) melodies and heartfelt dialogue between the piano and the strings.
The final movement (Allegro molto) changes the motif to a rhythmic figure with repeated notes and an upward leap. Various feelings from previous movements are again explored — reticent, aggressive, dramatic, and lyrical. Strongly accented dotted rhythms push the music forward to its passionate conclusion.
Anton Arensky was a Russian pianist, professor, and composer of Romantic classical music. He studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and went on to teach Scriabin and Rachmaninoff at the Moscow Conservatory. Although his reputation suffered from comparison with his colleague Tchaikovsky, who had a great influence on him, Arensky wrote many works of high quality, including the Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32. He died of tuberculosis, in a Finnish sanatorium, at the age of forty-four.
Arensky dedicated this trio to the memory of his friend cellist Karl Davidov, director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory when the composer studied there. The violin opens the Allegro moderato with a statement of the first theme, accompanied by rolling arpeggios on the piano. The cello takes up the tune, followed by the piano. Each instrument has its moment.
In the Scherzo (Allegro molto), the music moves to the tonic major (D major), and a lighthearted feeling is maintained throughout, with the piano playing keyboard-spanning runs. The Trio features the cello prominently in a romantic waltz.
After a cello-and-piano duet in G minor that opens the third movement, the Elegia (Adagio) returns the spotlight to the cello. Interludes of dreamlike G major passages interrupt the wistful reverie.
The Finale (Allegro non troppo) is a rondo (ABACADA), with a dramatic recurring theme introduced by the piano in dialogue with the strings. The violin and cello seem to finish the piano’s sentences, and melodies from earlier movements — including the major passages from the Elegia and the opening theme of the first movement — appear in the interludes to give a feeling of unity to the whole work.
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at email@example.com.
Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg