Alexis Bachman, Fabio Bidini & Alexis Pia Gerlach
Trio Solisti gave us compelling performances yesterday evening at Sunset Center.
The three musicians, violinist Maria Bachman, pianist Fabio Bidini and cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, were at the top of their form, both individually as virtuosi in their own right and as ensemble musicians responding to each other’s sensitive nuances in performances that kept us deeply involved for an hour and a half.
We had heard them the evening before in an informal situation (they were dressed more for an evening out at the bowling lanes) as they presided over an open rehearsal and master class in conjunction with talented young teenage musicians from Youth Music Monterey County’s Chamber Players. However, last night we were hearing them at Sunset Center elegantly duded up for a formal concert, and we couldn’t help but observe that the intensity of their playing was ratcheted up to the max.
From cellist Gerlach, we heard one instance after another of her compelling and expressive playing. She has a gorgeous rich sound that enhanced her superb musicianship by always serving the music and raising it to ever higher levels. At the master class the evening before violinist Bachman advised a young violinist not to attack a phrase, but to sneak into it and take us by surprise. Well, I think we can say she practices what she preaches, for we observed her doing just that many times as she shaped phrases with elegance and refinement. Pianist Bidini was amazing in showing us how he could play the most difficult passages and made them sound easy. In addition to his complete technical control, he also demonstrated the ability to come forward to play a dazzling solo passage and then recede into the background while listening intently to his ensemble partners. This was ensemble playing at its best.
The first work on the program, the youthful Piano Trio No. 2 in G Minor, by Antonín Dvořák, left us wondering why we don’t hear this work more often. Perhaps it is because it needs the intensity of a world-class ensemble to unlock its magic. In any case the performance we heard last night exceeded all expectations. This work has melodic invention and rhythmic vitality, a tender expressive Largo movement that showed each of the players at their best, a Scherzo movement that suggested mounted lancers galloping through forests in Bohemia and a final movement that had everything — Sturm und Drang, playfulness, a polka and even a fugue. At the end of the Scherzo, the excitement generated was so intense, I thought that after this blowout, the finale might be an anti climax. It was not.
The biggest hit of the evening was the Piano Trio No. 3 by Lowell Lieberman, a work written for Trio Solisti. The first section of this work was darkly mysterious with string melodies hovering over tremolo patterns and arpeggiated figuration in the piano. These beautiful sounds undulated and vibrated and moved in imaginative ways that was completely absorbing. The second section was rhythmic and jazzy with amazing solos in the lower bass section of the piano. Bidini was drawing out sounds that I had never heard before and wouldn’t have thought possible. Not only was it possible, but it was also musically compelling. The Trio Solisti players really knocked it out of the ballpark with this performance.
The concert ended with a major gem of the piano trio repertoire, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor. This great work never fails to impress and move us with its dramatic intensity, rich cello melodies (played beautifully by Gerlach), dazzling piano passages (Bidini pulling out all the stops), and the intensity of how all the movements work together to make a satisfying work we never tire of hearing. If there was any flaw, it was that the breakneck speed of the Scherzo and Finale were so excessively fast that we couldn’t always hear all the fascinating details in the music.
But, the audience loved it and applauded so enthusiastically that the players returned to the stage to give us one unnamed encore. It turned out to be a jazzy tango by Astor Piazzolla.