MONTPELIER — It was the Paris Piano Trio – minus one. Yet two concerts of very substantial chamber brought sold-out audiences to their feet multiple times over the weekend at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier.
Presented by Capital City Concerts, the famed French ensemble arrived in the United States at the end of last week minus its pianist. Jean-Claude Pennetier, now 78, was ordered by his doctor not to travel due to illness. Fortunately violinist Régis Pasquier and Roland Pidoux recruited Canadian pianist Philip Chiu, a friend of Pasquier’s. It wasn’t the Paris Piano Trio, but they delivered some high-end music making.
Perhaps the highest point of the weekend was Saturday’s performance of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor, something of a specialty of the Paris Piano Trio. Chiu certainly rose to the occasion, blending sensitively with Pasquier and Pidoux as they delivered the drama oh this post-Romantic masterpiece. And despite the “outsider” pianist, they explored the music sonically, achieving the work’s richness in a uniquely French way.
Sunday’s performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67, proved a powerful and haunting experience, again using a wide palette of colors, including eerie harmonics and other techniques. The slow movement, Largo, was a powerful experience, hinting at the Soviet malice – as does even the light-hearted finale.
With veteran musicians like Pasquier and Pidoux, there is a sense of tradition that gave these performances gravitas. They’ve been living this music for more than 50 years and, rather than just play it, they lived and breathed it.
Pasquier, one of Europe’s foremost violinists, has a sound that he molds to the music, a trait of French fiddlers. Although he had some intonation issues over the weekend, he played with a natural expressiveness and rhythmic exactness that gave the music power.
Pidoux, with his focused warm sound, was something of a rock holding everything together. He managed to be warmly expressive while being amazingly precise. And, of course, the two played off from each other beautifully.
Chiu, a fine young pianist, blended in well largely making the trio whole. Although lacking somewhat in grandeur, he played with an excellent technique, fluidity and a sense of drama. The lack of rehearsal time prevented him from expressing his own personality fully, but he did hold his own with two veteran masters. And, like Pennetier in times past, he made the church’s Yamaha baby grand sound like a big Steinway.
That combination worked well in three of the best-known trios in the repertoire. Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, Op. 97, Schubert’s B-flat Trio, Op. 99 and Brahms’ C Major Trio, Op. 87 all reflected the players’ experience and expertise. There was an unusual inevitability in the interpretations that made them deeply satisfying.
Least rewarding over the weekend was Mozart’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E Major, K. 542. Although technically well played, it lacked the cohesiveness and rhythmic incisiveness required. When played well, Mozart sounds easy to some, but the combination of precision and musical depth required is often illusive. (And Chiu had never played the work before.)
Capital City Concerts is to be congratulated in bringing artists of this level and history. With today’s focus on youth, it’s good to be reminded of the rich experience musicians of this depth can bring.