Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Trio Solisti

Maria Bachmann, violin
Alexis Pia Gerlach,
Adam Neiman,

Sunday, August 16, 2015, 4 pm


Sonatensatz for piano trio in B Flat Major, D. 28 (1812)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Piano Trio No. 2, Trio élégiaque in D minor, Op. 9 (1893)
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Moderato — Allegro vivace
Quasi variazione
Allegro risoluto


Étude-Tableau in E Flat Minor, Op. 39, No. 5 (1915)

Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 (1880-1882)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Allegro — Animato
Andante con moto
Scherzo: Presto
Finale: Allegro giocoso

next week

Saturday, August 22, 6pm | Chamber Orchestra Concert: Maverick Chamber Players,
Alexander Platt, conductor; Maria Todaro, soprano; Stephen Gosling, piano;
Emmanuel Feldman, cello, Members of the Aurea Ensemble

Music by Robert Starer, Benjamin Britten, and Henry Cowell
Aaron Copland᾿s Appalachian Spring Suite and Manuel de Falla᾿s El Amor Brujo

Sunday, August 23, 4 pm | Ariel Quartet with Thomas Storm, baritone
Quartets by Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky
Samuel Barber᾿s Dover Beach for string quartet and baritone



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.

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, ÜTo 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 Adam Neiman) 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, 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. Cafè Music, on Bridge Records, is an assortment of music that includes Paul Schoenfield᾿s jazzy Cafè 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.


Schubert was fifteen years old and still in school when he wrote one movement of a trio sonata, the Piano Trio in B Flat Major, D. 28. He was already a prolific composer, and in that year and the following, he wrote an opera, a symphony, and numerous chamber pieces. Part of his tutelage was with Antonio Salieri, who insisted that his students (including both Schubert and Beethoven) set Italian poetry, so Schubert᾿s prodigious catalogue of Lieder began in his teen years.

In the single Allegro movement, Schubert presents lively interplay between violin and piano. His style is reminiscent of Haydn᾿s, with bouncy background and light, pleasant themes. The cello plays duets with the violin, doubles the lower piano line, and provides bass support. As Schubert matured, he learned to give the cello more independent, essential parts. Nonetheless, the movement serves to show us the young composer᾿s early inventiveness.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a world-famous pianist and composer, one of the last representatives of Russian Romanticism. His early works were not well received, and that, combined with the sudden death of Tchaikovsky, sent him into a deep depression. He dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, to a therapist who helped him recover, and it has become one of the most frequently played concertos in the repertoire. Rachmaninoff lost his estate and his ability to earn a living in Russia as a result of the Russian revolution of 1917. He traveled to Scandinavia and then to the US, where he performed on tour for the rest of his life. He was close friends with Vladimir Horowitz, and they often gave two-piano recitals in Rachmaninoff᾿s home in Los Angeles.

The Piano Trio No. 2, Trio élégiaque in D minor, Op. 9, was written in memory of Tchaikovsky, who had just died at the age of fifty-three. The internationally famous Tchaikovsky had taken an interest in young Rachmaninoff, and was instrumental in having his first opera, Aleko, produced. Just as Tchaikovsky had dedicated a piano trio to the memory of a good friend, the pianist and composer Nikolai Rubinstein, so Rachmaninoff chose this genre to pay homage to the composer he so greatly admired.

In the Moderato, a mournful tune is played by the cello, high in its range, as the piano accompanies with a descending motif. Violin and cello play in dialogue—first one, then the other—setting a somber mood. The music speeds up, going through intense dramatic passages, until there is a break in the overcast sky, with sparkling piano and the strings for the first time playing in harmony. The fireworks return, as does the spare opening theme. This long movement was obviously written by a pianist.

The middle movement is entitled Quasi variazione. The piano presents the F major theme, which is then given many different treatments—duets, grand arpeggios, fast runs, pizzicato strings, and a return to the darkness of D minor.

After two long movements, a short finale (Allegro risoluto) ends the work. Once again, the piano figures prominently, beginning with a dramatic solo, and later playing in unison with or against the strings, almost taking on the sonority of a piano concerto. The music rises in hopefulness, and then descends into resolute acceptance of the grief.

Before he left Russia, Rachmaninoff wrote two groups of Études-Tableaux (Op. 33 in 1911 and Op. 39 in 1917). Etudes present specific problems to be worked on by pianists. In the case of the Étude-Tableau Op. 39, No. 5, in E-flat Minor, the pianist must play rapid repetitions of chords, and interlock hands to bring contrapuntal melodies out of a thick texture. It requires strong hands and wide reach, and is highly virtuosic. The work opens with an immediate contrast: a lyrical melody (marked Appassionato) is accompanied by driving, heavily accented chords in triplets. This gives way to a quieter theme, played contrapuntally with arpeggiated chords (played one note after another) beneath it. Parts of the ancient Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) chant are heard, as they are in every one of the nine etudes in the set. A gentle coda brings the piece to a peaceful end in the major key. Although the word “tableau” (picture) implies an extra-musical association, Rachmaninoff preferred to leave that to the listeners: “Let them paint for themselves what it most suggests.”

Some composers, such as Beethoven, are innovators, taking music into new and uncharted territories. Others, such as J.S. Bach, are synthesizers, refining the musical style of the day into an art form that exemplifies the era. Johannes Brahms was both. He sought to emulate the masters of the Baroque and Classical eras. At the same time, he introduced a harmonic language unlike anything that had ever been heard.

Brahms was a perfectionist. He destroyed many compositions rather than let something be published that was not up to his exacting standards. For instance, the companion piano trio to today᾿s work never saw the light of day. The Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87, however, apparently pleased him, since he spoke highly of the work to his publisher.

Another fan of the piece was his close friend Clara Schumann, who often received manuscripts from Brahms for her critical appraisal. She especially complimented the development sections and “how each motive grows out of the one before.” The first movement (Allegro) opens with a heroic theme played in octaves by the violin and cello. The piano presents the lyrical second theme, which, as Clara noted, seems to be cut from the same fabric as the first theme. Brahms interweaves his themes seamlessly, and ends with a simple restatement of the first theme.

In the slow movement (Andante con moto), Brahms again uses octave pairings to emphasize the dramatic, Hungarian-influenced melody, played by the strings as the piano punctuates with chords. Brahms organizes the movement as a theme and variations, one of his favorite styles. The penultimate variation puts the melody into the major mode, transforming its pathos into dreaminess. The minor returns for the last variation, and a quiet, wistful ending closes the movement.

The minor key, hurried notes, and pianissimo marking of the Scherzo (Presto) give it a mysterious, even mischievous air. The central trio provides contrast with a soaring legato violin line with rich, full accompaniment. As always, the scherzo section returns to complete the movement.

The Finale (Allegro giocoso) is a rondo with an exuberant recurring rondo theme. The episodes in between each occurrence of the theme grow out of that motif, and range from gentle ballads to terse staccato passages to sweeping declamations. Once again, the violin and cello play in octaves.

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 miriam@hvc.rr.com.

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg