CD Reviews: Gryphon Trio and L’estravagante show off the finest art of chamber music

The Gryphon Trio shares it magic in concert on Friday at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Vivaldi, Sonate da camera a tre, Op. 1 (Naïve)

Torontonians have experienced the charisma of Italian violinist (and conductor) Stefano Montanari live with Tafelmusik and Opera Atelier. Here he is with his partners in period-instrument ensemble L’estravagante — violinist Stefano Rossi, cellist Francesco Galligioni and keyboard continuo specialist Maurizio Salerno — in a magnificent collection of nine chamber trio sonatas from Antonio Vivaldi’s very first set of published compositions.

To call the playing here expressive doesn’t begin to do justice to the fine detail work that underpins it. The tradition and style that Vivaldi was writing for focuses on expression more than virtuosity (that would come later in the violin-loving Red Priest’s career). Here, the two violins are meant to be true stand-ins for the human voice, demanding inflection, breathing and phrasing that mimics a singer’s.

The resulting rainbow of colours that Montanari and Rossi tease out of their Baroque violins (supposedly not capable of as wide range of expression as a modern violin) is remarkable. The duo also master the subtle art of dialogue that the two instruments need to engage in.

The cello, harpsichord and portable organ supply the harmonic foundations (the original edition, which is lost, was for cello only, but a subsequent one included keyboard accompaniments, as well).

The 17th century chamber sonata style is three movements — slow, fast, slow — but Vivaldi, embracing a new century, makes free with convention, starting off slowly in each case, but adding movements drawn from traditional courtly dance forms at will.

The disc starts off with the final, 12th, sonata, based on the most popular source of theme-and-variations of the day, “La follia.” The album is a treat from the first note to the last.

For all the details (in French) and audio samples, click here.

Great Piano Trios (Analekta)

Normally, there isn’t much reason to mention a compilation album from an ensemble whose discs are still in print. But I think this 9-CD box from their longtime label, Analekta, helps to remind us how much the Gryphon Trio has accomplished as it approaches its 20th anniversary in 2013.

This compilation, featuring the piano trios of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, is only just the tip of a creative maelstrom that has seen pianist Jamie Parker, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys participate in (or initiate) a number of educational enterprises with their music. They have been enthusiastic commissioners of new repertoire. And they have been the steadily beating heart of the summertime Ottawa Chamber Music Festival for the last five seasons.

None of this would be possible if they weren’t phenomenal musicians in the first place — and this is the reason why this reissue should have been called The Art of the Piano Trio and distributed to every music school with running water as an example of what fine, engaging chamber music is all about.

The three Toronto-based players are elegance itself as they navigate the history of the piano trio. All of the works in this reissue have been recorded before, but pulling them all together is an incredible way to appreciate each composer’s progress, as well as the subtle ways the Gryphons transform their playing to suit each composer’s style.

You can get all the details of the album, as well as audio samples, here.

The Gryphons perform a substantial programme — Haydn, Beethoven (the “Archduke”) and Christos Hatzis — at the Aurora Cultural Centre’s historic performance space on Friday at 8 p.m. Details here.


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