Long Beach Gazette: Sensational

Piano Trio Firenze - Sensational

Do you know about the Music Guild?
Here’s the deal: more people should know about the group that opened its season last Tuesday night at Daniel Recital Hall. There’s a lot for a serious music lover to like.

The Music Guild has been around for 73 years. They started in LA, and have since spread out; they present a series in the San Fernando Valley, one on the Westside, and one in Long Beach. They also sponsor education programs, including masterclasses at the California State University Long Beach and our Bob Cole Conservatory.

We’re talking chamber music: piano trios, string quartets, etc. The Music Guild presents high quality ensembles, some of them with international reputations, all of them well-regarded professionals. The concerts are all about the music; there are no made-up “themes,” no social events beforehand, no receptions afterward. The audience, made up primarily of seniors and students, is serious, knowledgeable, respectful (no clapping between movements here) and very appreciative. For music snobs like me, it’s sheer heaven.

The concert the other night was typical. The program consisted of just two major pieces, Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio and the Tchaikovsky A minor. The Piano Trio Firenze were the artists, and they were sensational.

Cellist Andrew Shulman is a familiar figure locally, a former principal with the LA Philharmonic, now with LA Chamber Orchestra. He’s a big guy with a big, beautiful sound. Speaking of a big sound, violinist Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker plays with a silvery tone that fills the room.

... Each one of these musicians is a master, and the group plays with consummate artistry. There are no technical hurdles they don’t overcome, and everything sounds easy and natural. More than that, musicians at this level love to play chamber music, and it shows. Especially in the often humorous passages in the Beethoven, the Firenzians were having a great time, exchanging smiles and knowing looks, and exhibiting an infectious playfulness.

The “Archduke,” so named for the nobleman to whom Beethoven dedicated the work, is one of the monuments of the genre. Three strong musicians with big sounds blended their talents to create a marvelous performance, and Beethoven’s genius shone through. With the piano lid all the way up, Leone held his own alongside his strong colleagues, and contributed a nice sensitivity.

The ensemble in the hymn-like third movement was ravishing, the teasing intro to the finale a real hoot.

The Tchaikovsky is a different animal, passionate and fiery. Here the group managed the shifting moods of the second half’s variations, from folksy dance to funereal, with perfect unanimity, Höpcker leading the way with authority. This is a long, complex work, and it received a totally commanding performance.

Long Beach Gazette, November, 8, 2017
Jim Ruggirello