State of the Art

Trio Latitude 41: The Sohn also rises

By Lawrence Toppman

We live in a golden age for performances of classical music. Soloists and ensembles of a high quality abound, and you needn’t be in New York or London to hear them.

I thought of that again this week for three reasons: I saw Pekka Kuusisto play the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Charlotte Symphony, I firmed up my plans to cover Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston – where the chamber music series is always a highlight – and I listened to CDs of Saint-Saens and Schubert by Trio Latitude 41.

Violinist Livia Sohn links the last two experiences. She plays annually at Spoleto, and she joins pianist Bernadene Blaha and cellist Luigi Piovano in Latitude 41. (It has that name because their first concert, played in Rhode Island, and Piovano’s home in Rome share that latitude.)

Both CDs make us listen with refreshed ears: The Schubert Trio No. 2 (the greatest ever, for my money) has vigor and tenderness, a strong forward drive yet a relaxed and even playful quality in the lighter moments. (Latitude 41 observes all musical repeats, which not every trio will do.)

Saint-Saens’ two seldom-heard trios, one by a frivolous young composer and one by an older man making a rare voyage into heavy drama, strike a similar balance: The trio is at home whether smiling or furrowing its three-part brow.

Latitude 41 remains eloquent in all moods and, appropriately, records for the Eloquentia label. The three balance each other; Sohn isn’t the star, the way violinists Isaac Stern and Jascha Heifetz sometimes tended to be in the trios they led.

Yet she’s the reason I set out to write this post, because she typifies the kind of versatile non-stars that make such satisfying music. Sohn has taught at Stanford for the last decade, gives concerto performances around the world and regularly plays chamber works. (Piovano and Blaha have similar resumés, though I’ve never heard them in any other context.)

Once upon a time, only princes and the wealthiest patrons could call on artists who performed at this level. Later, they toured only to the great cities of Europe and America. Now you never know where you’ll hear one, and that’s a lucky thing for you and me.