By Scott MacClelland
THE SMOOTHNESS with which Trio Solisti performed Saturday night in Carmel belied the somewhat bumpy road they traveled to get here. Launched in 2001, their founding pianist, Adam Neiman, took his leave last year after making some just-released final recordings with violinist Maria Bachmann and cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach. Meanwhile, with pianist Fabio Bidini, whose tenure overlapped Neiman’s departure, the trio premiered the new piece on their program here, Lowell Liebermann’s splendid Piano Trio No. 3, in 2013. But those musical chairs weren’t the only distraction. The Carmel program underwent other changes in which one originally added artist was bumped because of an alleged criminal complaint.
When I first encountered Maria Bachmann—daughter of a Hungarian expert on the music of Bartók—she was not the blonde you see here. Two and half decades ago the raven coiffed artist was making a name for herself playing new music and creating CDs of it. (In 1994, Scottish composer James MacMillan wrote a duo for her called Kiss on Wood, which she premiered on an album of the same name.)
For Carmel, Trio Solisti opened with Dvořák’s early Trio in G Minor of 1876, followed by the 15-minute Liebermann, and concluded with the popular D Minor trio by Mendelssohn. The Dvořák piece, written after the death of his young daughter, and when he was 35, is plainly a masterful work with many facets of his mature style in latent evidence. Yet one would be hard-pressed to identify the personality that becomes unmistakable in the later symphonies, the violin and cello concertos, and even the Slavonic Dances composed just two years later in 1878. This no doubt accounts for its infrequent appearance in chamber music concert programs. Still, the large audience—which included some 90 school students from Salinas, Marina and various Monterey Peninsula schools—rewarded the performance warmly.
Then came the Liebermann, which started out with a slow steady series of stand-alone piano chords over which the violin and later the cello sang with an increasing sense of expectation. Though in a single movement, a second section gave the pianist glittering passages that made it sound like a harp. The last third whipped into a jazzy dance of high energy and excitement—to which the composer added in the score, “They’re coming,” apparently referencing this last year of violence and the poisonous rhetoric of the election season. Nevertheless, the piece won over everyone and brought the audience to its feet.
During the interval, many in the audience were speaking about the board president of the sponsoring Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Barbara Babcock, who died unexpectedly on the previous weekend and to whose memory the concert was dedicated.
Mendelssohn’s Trio in D Minor remains more popular that his Trio in C Minor, and I’ve never understood why. They are both excellent works. This performance sparkled as much as it satisfied. Being called back to the stage twice, Trio Solisti chose Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango as their encore. They packed its amazing range of moods and attitudes into eight minutes, noticeably shorter than a typical reading. In a couple of spots, Bachmann bowed the strings below the bridge creating a shrill, raspy sound, while Gerlach rapped the side of her cello with knuckles for added percussion. Quel hoot!
It was hard to gauge how many of the 90 teenagers were truly dialed in to this experience, but from where I sat, in the back of the hall, they all seemed to pay keen attention. When in doubt, Chamber Music Monterey Bay always goes the extra mile to bring young people into the fold, with, not least, their pioneering “Kids up front and free” and Visiting Artists Outreach masterclasses for young musicians. Bravo and Happy 50th Anniversary, CMMB.
Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco