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Trio Solisti's program raises questions

Tuesday's concert by the acclaimed Trio Solisti offered one of the more unusual programs on the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series.

It opened with the Dvorak Trio No. 3 in F minor, which turned out to be the only conventional chamber work of the evening. The other works were by Piazzolla and Mussorgsky, both originally written for solo piano and subsequently transcribed for piano trio.

Dvorak's 1883 Trio is a work of pervading seriousness over the death of his mother.

Even the sprightly Allegretto grazioso second movement retained a darkness that could not be overridden. In the opening Allegro and the Finale, the artists unleashed a level of playing that was thrilling in its precision and superb phrasing, and overwhelming in its almost orchestral richness. And in the slow movement, the players' approach was pensive and probing, while the seams in its developing fabric were sublimely joined. The Trio Solisti reached a level of technical perfection and emotional insight that one expects to encounter once in a lifetime.

In the other two works, the artists' technique remained at the same elevated level, but the musical satisfaction they delivered declined.

Astor Piazzolla's 1968 "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" has been transcribed and recorded in any number of instrumental configurations, including piano trio. The Trio Solisti played with a brio, panache and insight that made this transcription a convincing portrayal of Piazzolla's music. It is not a pictorial representation of the seasons, like Vivaldi's, but rather a series of flavorful tangos, evocations of the composer's feelings about his favorite city. But Piazzolla's composition leans heavily on sequences of figurations that coalesce into a theme, repeated rising and falling patterns, an overriding sense of nervousness that seldom subsides, and flashy, whiz-bang endings. Afterward, I had a hard time distinguishing in my memory one season from another.

Mussorgsky's famous "Pictures at an Exhibition" has been a towering virtuoso tour de force for piano in its original format, and a universally loved orchestral showpiece in Ravel's shimmering, glowing orchestration. So the question is a bit more apt here. Do we really need a piano trio transcription?

This transcription was by the guest artists themselves, and they gave the performance their all. It was effective in a few of the episodes, such as The Old Castle and the Catacombs. But in many other places the strings seemed like extra baggage, and I could hardly wait for it to conclude. The majestic final Great Gate at Kiev was a prime example, with the strings clouding the texture like a layer of gauze over the work's otherwise glorious resonance.

Trio Solisti are top level artists. Rather than these showy but shallow transcriptions, they would serve chamber music better by exhuming such forgotten works as the soaringly lyrical 1890 Trio in C minor by Guillaume Lekeu, which is never played in America.


Trio Solisti

Presented by the Buffalo Chamber Music Society. Tuesday evening in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.