Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review: Trio Solisti

April 14, Virginia Commonwealth University

For the second time this season, an ensemble booked for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts showed up with a substitute player. The first time, that proved to be bad news. This time, Edward Arron, the substitute engaged by Trio Solisti when its regular cellist, Alexis Pia Gerlach, bowed out because of a family emergency, provided some of the highlights of the concert.

Arron, joining pianist Jon Klibonoff and violinist Maria Bachmann in this concert, is a cellist with a big tone who “sings” unindulgently and phrases and terraces dynamics expertly. A regular at major chamber-music festivals (artistic director of several) and a teacher at New York University, Arron is not a star; but he certainly has stellar technique and musicianship.

Good thing, too, because the cello plays prominent roles in all three of the pieces in the trio’s VCU program – Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke,” Op. 88; Dvořák’s Trio in E minor, Op. 90 (“Dumky”); and Brahms’ Trio in B major, Op. 8 – as well as frequently playing in tight ensemble with the violin, and having to make its voice heard clearly alongside a decidedly unreticent piano in the Dvořák and Brahms.

The three musicians found their collective sweet spot in the Brahms, producing a rich and well-blended, virtually orchestral, texture while projecting their instruments’ individual characters and carrying their solo lines with warmth and clarity. The highlights of the performance, for me, were the expressive differentiation the ensemble delivered in the first-movement repeat and the combination of lyricism and deep quiet that the threesome brought to the adagio.

Their Dvořák was as songful and energetic as required, but not as tonally refined as the Brahms, and unidiomatic in string sound. Czech fiddlers produce a combination of lean tone and lyrical sweetness that few others approximate, let alone match; Bachmann and Arron played with the standard American mixture of warmth and muscularity. At the piano, Klibonoff also was “pumping iron,” as a fellow concertgoer put it. At their loudest, the three pushed against the boundary of agreeability in the acoustic of VCU’s Vlahcevic Concert Hall.

Klibonoff, Bachmann and Arron were a bit slow to warm to the Schumann – the opening Romanze was rather dry; but once they did warm to it (or perhaps to the sound of the hall, or both), they gave a winning account of the piece. Their treatment of the Humoreske was especially impressive in its dynamism and pointed rhythms.