The Ardor Trio and Pianist Brian Verhoye Champion Fauré’s First Piano Quartet

With pianist Bryan Verhoye, the Ardor Trio offered a robust, stimulating chamber concert Saturday in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. The intrepid string trio balanced Gabriel Fauré’s beloved, evergreen Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor with rarely performed but engaging string trios by Émile Ratez and Christian Woehr.

If the promise of hearing the Fauré Piano Quartet was the trio’s lure to this well-attended concert, these performers did not disappoint. Verhoye’s athletic technique rightly commanded the Piano Quartet with sparkling articulation, crisp octaves, and glistening melodic contours. The well-disciplined trio—violinist Linda Piatt, violist Robie Evans, and cellist Amanda Devlin—communicated the exuberance of the composer’s ample thematic invention.

I particularly appreciated the playful but precise string pizzicatos in the Scherzo and Devlin’s soulful cello solo that opened the Adagio. The powerful finale, marked Allegro molto, clearly belonged to Verhoye, and it soared. At various times in the Piano Quartet, however, he overpowered the strings. Perhaps he did not realize how much horsepower the Mason and Hamlin concert grand unleashed in the 450-seat hall. In any case, the Fauré was a treat, and the players added as an encore the composer’s equally popular “Siciliènne” from his incidental music to the play Pelléas et Mélisande.

Christian Woehr, who spent his career as Principal Viola in the St. Louis Symphony, vacillates between post-Romantic textures brimming with vibrant melodies and darker modernist ruminations in his Trio No. 3 Summer Song for violin, viola, and cello. The Ardor Trio gave a spirited, polished account of this well-constructed four-movement work. I thought the agitated final movement, Vivace, made the most convincing musical arguments. Also notable—Summer Song boasts a lovely viola solo that opens the second movement.

The Ardor Trio opened their program with a single movement from Émile Ratez’ Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello. A contemporary of Fauré who studied with Jules Massenet, Ratez clearly had a gift for crafting mellifluous melodies. In this movement, he did not display the rich harmonic invention of Fauré, but it would be wrong to make a larger generalization based on hearing only a portion of his composition. The Trio’s spirited performance of the Ratez movement encouraged me to seek out more of his work.

This concert was presented by the Ardor Trio in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, 4190 Front St., on Saturday, September 28m 2019.

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