Friday , May 24 2024
Trio Wanderer

Concert Review: Trio Wanderer Play Schumann, Liszt, Ravel at Bargemusic

The French chamber ensemble Trio Wanderer has been wandering the terrain of classical and contemporary chamber music for more than 35 years, with nearly that many recordings under their belts. On Monday, pianist Vincent Coq, violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, and cellist Raphaël Pidoux boarded Brooklyn’s famous floating venue Bargemusic to brave the bouncing waters of the East River and play a muscular concert of Piano Trios by Robert Schumann and Maurice Ravel, along with Franz Liszt’s weird and wily “Tristia – La Vallée d’Obermann” and an invigorating encore by Lili Boulanger.

Schumann: Energy and Passion

You don’t need to know that Robert Schumann suffered from mental illness to feel the gut-wrench at the start of his Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 63. This was a performance that made pain palpable, rendering the composer’s marking of the first movement “Mit Energie und Leidenschaft [Passion]” seem almost redundant. The rising chromatic motive emerged first like a blazing sun, later like a soft moonrise. All three musicians produced a warm, woody tone as the barge heaved with the wakes of passing ferries, heightening the effect of a merged unit.

Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY

The peppy major-key scherzo lightened the mood, though a recollection of the same rising chromatic figuration tied this expanse of relief to the storminess that came before. Mr. Phillips-Varjabédian endowed the violin melody at the start of the mournful third movement with an ineffable sweetness, and I heard somehow a proto-jazzy sound in the way Mr. Coq played the piano chords. When the theme rebounded in triplets the trio leaned into the rhythms, while Schumann’s dense harmonies supported the songfulness in this gorgeous performance.

The musicians aptly conveyed the finale’s triumphant drama as they wended over and under one of the great melodies of the piano trio repertoire. Finally they brought the piece to a stunning close with a climactic accelerando.

Lili Boulanger
Dessin de Gaston Raïeter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Liszt and Ravel: Fever and Dreams

For the Liszt, I found my brain unconsciously shifting contexts from Schumann’s high romanticism to what I often hear as the great Hungarian showman’s embrace of the strange. This version of the “Tristia” – Liszt’s own reworking of Edward Lasser’s original piano trio arrangement – has many exposed parts for each instrument. All three Wanderers played with great finesse as well as with fever and even choler. In their reading, the piece’s idiosyncrasies felt more akin to the music of the 20th century than of the 19th. Trio Wanderer has been playing it for years, at least since their 2011 recording. They are as convincing, I think, as anyone can be.

With no intermission preceding, the dreamlike first movement of Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor offered a transportive experience. That impressionistic appeal continued into a striking second (“Pantoum”), whose off-kilter rhythms transpired like a furious, sometimes breathless dance in hard-to-follow time, and an intense Passacaille that traveled to interesting harmonic places rooted in a haunting basso piano melody. The finale unfolded like a fever dream of power chords and irregular time signatures. This was compelling Ravel.

Having performed their substantial program without a break, Trio Wanderer summoned the energy for an encore, itself fairly substantial: “D’un matin de printemps [Of a spring morning]” by Lili Boulanger. I had never heard this piece before and it was a great delight.

Having “wandered” through four very different jewels of the Piano Trio repertoire, the musicians sent us out into the suddenly chilly waterfront nighttime with a vision of a spring morning.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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