Trio Solisti Showcases Its Versatility in New CD

Café Music. Trio Solisti (Bridge 9296)

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As its name indicates, Trio Solisti—Maria Bachmann, violin; Alexis Pia Gerlach, cello; Jon Klibonoff, piano—consists of three top-rank soloists who can merge their talents without submerging their personalities. All are technically brilliant: the string players’ intonation is impeccable, their tone intense and pure.

The trio’s sound is flawed only by the violinist’s unchanging vibrato and lack of tonal variety, and by the pianist’s tendency to bang. Among the group’s outstanding features are its wide-ranging repertoire, stylistic versatility, and championship of contemporary music, including the premieres of many new works. This recording represents what must be yet another departure for the players: a foray into North and South American semi-popular, jazzy music, including pieces by the late tango master Astor Piazzolla, Paul Schoenfield, Joaquin Turina, and George Gershwin.

It is not entirely successful, partly because of the choice and handling of the material. Of the five works on this program, three are transcriptions: Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and “Grand Tango,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from Gershwin’s jazz-opera Porgy and Bess. Created by Bachmann or with her collaboration, the arrangements make full use of her virtuosity, her shimmering tone, and her knowledge of instrumental effects—a scraping sound produced by playing on the wrong side of the bridge, an incredible number and variety of slides for idiomatic flavor, knocking on the cello to imitate percussion.

Yet even all this cannot always make the instruments fit the music. For instance, the Gershwin almost becomes its own parody as a violin bravura piece. There is a pervasive feeling that the players are not really at home in this musical language, and are consciously trying to make the solos sound improvised, though the rhythms and melodies sound natural. That sense contravenes the essential spontaneity of the style. The piano trios, Schoenfield’s “Café Music” and Turina’s Trio No. 2 come off best.

*This article appeared in Strings September 2009
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