Trio Zimbalist offers a short but worthy concert for Friends of Chamber Music

By Lawrence Budmen

Trio Zimbalist performed music of Dvořák and Fauré Monday night at FIU for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Viktor Jelinek

While there is a vast trove of works for string quartet, the literature for piano trio is comparatively limited. On Monday night, Trio Zimbalist offered one of the genre’s evergreen masterpieces and were joined by violist Roberto Diaz for a rarely performed piano quartet. Presented by the Friends of Chamber Music at Florida International University’scWertheim Performing Arts Center, the concert (sans intermission) was short but the performances were exceptional.

The trio takes its name from the violinist and former president of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music Efrem Zimbalist. All three players are Curtis graduates and accomplishedcsoloists in their own right yet exhibiting patrician ensemble skills. Their balance and blending proved well-nigh perfect with each player’s artistry adroitly displayed but never overwhelming the others.

Dvořák’s Piano Trio in E minor (“Dumky”) is a classic and the Zimbalist musicians’ reading took the full measure of the work’s dance-infused propulsion and nostalgia. From the outset, cellist Timotheos Gavrilidis-Petrin’s strong attacks and glowing tone riveted attention. While many violinists play the Czech dance segments in a straightforward manner, Josef Špaĉek captured the native spirit of his countryman’s fusion of classicism and folk fiddling. Pianist George Xiaoyuan Fu could bring forth great power from the keyboard but lightened his touch to channel the lyrical themes in fluent phrasing. The players astute playing mixed elegance with fleet energy.

Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 15 combined tempestuous romanticism with Gallic restraint. Current president of Curtis and former principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Diaz is one of the finest exponents of his instrument. His large sonority matched Gavrilidis-Petrin’s burnished cello and Fu’s keyboard dexterity was equal to Fauré’s changes of tempo. His whirling figurations, over plucked strings, in the second movement Scherzo mixed agile precision with idiomatic style.

As in many French chamber works, the slow movement of Fauré’s quartet is the score’s heart, illuminating its depth of expression. The three string players set the solemn aura, their timbres well matched. In the central episode, there was a sense of rising joy, with contrasts effectively pointed. In the concluding Allegro molto, the players unleashed fiery impetuosity, vividly bringing Fauré’s restless pages to life while mining the underlying lyricism. One looks forward to future visits by this gifted threesome.

Friends of Chamber Music presents pianist Emanuel Ax playing works by Beethoven and Schoenberg 8 p.m. Tuesday at FIU Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

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Tue Mar 5, 2024
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