Other than Beethoven’s Trio in C, Op. 9, No.3 and Mozart’s quaintly named masterpiece, Divertimento in E-flat, K. 563, the string trio repertory is virtually unknown to all but the most avid music lovers. An ongoing venture by The Vivaldi Project will open up a whole segment of engaging, well-crafted music that has been gathering dust in libraries for three centuries. Since 2015, these player-scholars have been immersed in exploring both the relationship of the classical string trio to the earlier baroque trio sonata and its function as a popular 18th-century genre competing with the emerging string quartet. Between (1762-70) string trios outnumbered string quartets by more than five-to-one! The quartet form’s success left a vast repertoire unknown and unplayed.

The title of this concert tour is Discovering More Classical String Trios. The fruit of an earlier tour is permanently recorded in the ensembles’ CD, Discovering the Classical String Trio, Volume 1, MSR Classics 1621. The remarkably intriguing works on this program will appear in a future Volume 2 release. The members of The Vivaldi Project are violinist Elizabeth Field, Allison Edberg Nyman on both period violin and viola, and cellist Stephanie Vial. Multiple bows were used by all, Baroque for the first half, and transitional bows (much like modern ones) after intermission. Vial’s superb program notes succinctly distilled musicology along with musical description and were heavily drawn upon for this review.

With this performance taking place in wonderful acoustics of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, works by four early Classical composers filled the opening half of the concert, beginning with the Sonata in G, B. 37 (c. 1755-62) for two violins and basso by Johann Christian Bach (1735-82). It is in two movements, a rarely designated Allegrino followed by a Tempo di Menuetto. A comparison of the naming of the opening movement in a similarly named edition led to taking it moderately slow Andante. Both movements are cheerful with attractive themes and a welcome combination of the violins in unison and contrasting dialog.

The next work, Sonata in G minor, Op. 1, No. 2 (1762) for two violins with a through bass for harpsichord or cello by Carlo Antonio Campioni, proved to be a really winning discovery. Thomas Jefferson, an avid amateur musician, so liked Campioni’s works he wanted his European vendor to send “everything else he has composed.” Its three movements are Largo andante, Allegro spiritoso, and Allegro assai. The cello part often abounds in rich bass-line melodies. The middle movement exhibits the composer’s remarkable melding of Italianate drama with French elegance. Open-string double stops and inventive pairings evoke the droning country bagpipes of a lively gigue of the finale.

The defining and massive string quartet mastery of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) has helped obscure the rich inventiveness of his surviving 18 string trios such as Diverimento in D for two violins and basso, Hob.V:15 (c.1755-62). Its three movements are Adagio, Allegro, Menuet-Trio. It has the composer’s characteristic love of surprises and sudden twists and turns. Sometimes the first violin sings an aria-like melody above the cello’s harmonic outline and pizzicato from the second violin suggesting a lute.

François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was one of 18th century France’s most prolific composers, musical impresarios, and conductors. His Trio in F for two violins, basse, et cors ad libitum, Op. 9, no. 3 (1766) gives each player a turn with bravura passages over its two movements: Allegretto, and Tempo di Menuetto. The cello is treated independently in both and a plethora of techniques conjure a complex texture.

After intermission, Nyquist switched from violin to viola and all three used transitional bows.

The Trio Concertant et Dialogué in B-flat, Op. 27, No. 4 (1786) by Jean-Baptiste Sébastien Bréval (1753-1822) is in three movements Allegro, Adagio, and Presto. All three players get challenging passages in the fast outer movements. The highest register of the cello is frequently exploited over the course of a piece suggestive of witty Parisian Salon conversation.

The Italian violinist and violist Allessandro Rolla (1757-1841) was a prolific composer of more than 500 instrumental works in all forms, besides being an important conductor. Both the older Italian string writing style and the newer Viennese classical style are present in his Trio Concertant in F, Book 2, No.1 BI 341 (n.d.). It is in three movements Allegro, Thema con variazioni andantino moso, and Rondo allegro. Rolla writes music that skirts the edge of what is possible of period instruments with their flatter and shorter fingerboards. Several times both violinist and cellist finger beyond its edge. The work is a wild, virtuosic showpiece!

All three players of The Vivaldi Project – Field, Nyquist, and Vial – played with extraordinary mastery of style and marvelous control of intonation. The kaleidoscopic breath of string color and tone was a constant pleasure. This was the second concert of their tour of this program. I look forward to their second CD volume’s release!

See our calendar for future events on this tour.