Franz Schubert: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 148, D. 897 (Notturno)
Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 11
If nothing else, this past year has taught me that serendipity is a major factor in finding out where live music concerts take place in Rome, or anywhere else in Italy for that matter, and that keeping my eyes peeled will likely yield rewarding results. And in fact, it happened again last Thursday afternoon as I was meeting my friend Paula at the spot she had picked, the Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, for one last rendez-vous before her flying back to New York City the next day after a very busy Roman holiday.
Santa Cecilia being the patroness of music and musicians, and the 3rd-century Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere standing on the location of the house in which she allegedly lived and died, it is no wonder that after taking a very enjoyable spin around the lovely garden and church, we noticed a home-made flyer from Trastevere Classica advertising a free concert right there by the newish, but already much in demand, all-female Trio Hermes on Saturday afternoon.
Flash-forward 48 hours, and I am back, same time same place, after having mightily struggled to make my way through a Piazza di Porta San Giovanni densely crowded with locals due to the huge “Europe for Peace” rally, and then through an Ancient Rome area densely crowded with tourists due to the irresistible pull of impressive ruins and perfect weather, all of which reminded me why I usually stay put on the weekend.
Finally back in Trastevere, the basilica’s monastery in which the concert was to happen turned out to be an attractively understated, wonderful intimate and acoustically reliable space that would eventually fill up, partly with in-house nuns partly with neighborhood regulars partly with curious visitors, by the time the performance was over. Apparently, I was not the only one who could not think of a better way to ease into a Saturday evening.
Although they have all graduated from different Italian conservatories, the three ladies displayed an impressive unison as they opened the concert with Haydn’s delightful Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Hob. XV: 10. The engaging, happy-go-lucky piece has just two movements, the cheerful Allegro moderato and the exuberant Presto assai, but those were definitely appealing fodder for the musicians to feast on, and they sure did, with plenty of talent, grace, and fire.
Then we moved to full-blown Romanticism with the one movement—But what a movement!—that Schubert wrote for his Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 148, D. 897. Deftly oscillating between meditative serenity and jubilant elation while preserving a guarded elegance, featuring an extraordinary mix of exquisite wandering melodies and dark random pizzicatos, this Notturno unfolded leisurely in all its delicate yet intense beauty. It had to be a tall order to express its countless subtle nuances as eloquently as they did, but the fearless trio was able to handle it all.
The last, but certainly not least, name on the program was Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister, who unfortunately lived in a time and place that neither fully recognized nor fittingly celebrated her prodigious talent as pianist, and even less as a composer. Two centuries later, the three modern young women of the Trio Hermes readily stepped up and delivered an electrifying performance of her Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 11, a truly exciting work that overflows with innovative ideas and glorious lyricism. It also proves that she was every bit the gifted melody maker that her brother was, and that it is high time she finds herself in the spotlight.
This wonderful hour of superior music-making had flown by quickly, and the musicians kindly decided to extend it slightly with an encore that could only make everybody happy, the Scherzo from Beethoven’s sprawling Archduke Trio, which provided enough virtuosic fireworks to qualify as an official grand finale.