Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Music Society is on fire. This past season brought a variety of exceptional performers to North Texas. The season’s penultimate concert brought a unique singing group that specializes in avant-garde music that includes non-singing sounds in a fascinating mix that takes music to another sonic world. Then, on Monday, DCMS closed the season with a return to more conventional chamber music groups: Trio Solisti, which features violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, and pianist Fabio Bidini.
But there was nothing conventional about their playing. Their reputation preceded them and we were curious to hear this group that has received reviews full of superlatives. The discerning critic Antony Tommasini of the New York Times pulled out phrases praising their “...insight and intelligence…” and called them “…startlingly fresh and fascinating (with) plenty of fire and excitement.” Strad Magazine extoled their “abundant dynamism, exceptional balance and a wholly successful grasp of the interpretive essence.”
On Monday night in Caruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University, they earned all those exceptional adjectives right from the start.
The program had another bonus because they played the music of a living composer—imagine that! Lowell Liebermann’s exceptionally well-crafted Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 122 represents another jewel in Trio Solisti’s diadem: they commission composers to write for them.
They opened with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No.1, called the “Ghost.” It got that nickname from the supernatural music in the second movement. Maybe this came from its timing. At the time, Beethoven was sketching out music for his yet-to-be-written and ghost-laden opera Macbeth (never finished). The outer two movements are worldlier but still have many surprises to deliver.
The Trio Solisti gave the trio, as well as the remainder of the program, an immaculate and insightful performance. At the opening of the first movement, they brought out Beethoven’s time signature joke (it is in three but he groups the notes in four.) The finale is a virtuoso romp and Bidini’s incredibly difficult piano part was tossed off with little apparent effort. Overall, the trio obviously enjoyed playing Beethoven’s subtly humorous piece. The reveled in his sudden shifts to unexpected keys, misplaced fermata and downbeats. Most ensembles are so serious about what they are playing that they often miss the composer’s incorporated levity or worse, do not appear to be enjoying playing the concert. Not so with Trio Solisti.
Lowell Liebermann is familiar to long-time Dallas audiences from his stint as composer-in-residence for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. This trio, written in 2012, is in one movement but with multiple sections. Trio Solisti managed to knit these disparate musical units into a coherent single entity. They brought out the jazz influence and built the piece to its apotheoses with its sudden ending. Hearing this performance, you cannot help but wonder why Liebermann’s music isn’t heard more often—especially now that tonality has reasserted itself.
The Brahms Trio No. 2, Op. 87, that followed the intermission also uses the hemiola technique that we found in the Beethoven. Right from the start, it has strings playing in groups of three and the piano in groups of four. The ensemble brought this canted rhythm out as well, when it appears later in the piece. (Brahms loved to use hemiola and it can be found in most of his works.) They also accented Brahms’ writing, dividing the group into two ensembles. He often separates the two strings instruments as a group and the piano a separate and sometimes out of sync entity. They brought out the nervous and slightly dark Mendelsohnian quality of the scherzo but let the trio soar. Their effervescent performance of the last movement brought the concert to an exciting close.
Their exceptional joie de vivre permeated the entire concert, from Beethoven to Liebermann and the last piece, Brahms’ Trio No. 2, Op. 87. This is not to say that they were not serious about the music (they were); or missed the drama where required. They did.
In addition, the sound changed with each composer, which is not often the case. The Beethoven sparkled (except for the strange slow movement, of course). The Liebermann, in its unique version of tonality, was fresh and completely different in sound and bowing technique. Brahms received his deserved heft without weighing the music down.
Add to that the impeccable technique, absolute clarity, excellent voicing and balance and nearly perfect intonation, you can understand why they are so highly praised.