Sublime Schubert at Pieve a Elici

Close your eyes and imagine yourself on a high ridge with a large lake and the Tyrhennian Sea on one side and the Apuan mountains on the other.

Envision before you a beautiful Romanesque church and, entering into its placid interior, find yourself ready to hear two of the finest pieces of chamber music played by one of the world’s supreme piano trios.

You may realise then that you are at Pieve a Elici and are part of the audience at one of Italy’s premiere chamber music festivals.

We discovered this heavenly place last year (see our post at )

This time we attended a concert by the Trio di Parma which was formed in 1990 by students graduating from the Parma conservatoire and consisting of Alberto Miodini (pianoforte), Ivan Rabaglia (violino), and Enrico Bronzi (violoncello). Ivan Rabaglia plays a Guadagnini violin made in Piacenza in 1744 and Enrico Bronzi has a Panormo cello built by the great ‘liutaio’ from Monreale, Sicily and dating 1775 when he’d moved to London.

The proof of the instruments is in their playing and the trio kicked off (that’s a truly appropriate word for the start of this sublime work) with Schubert’s Bb major trio. The players fully understood the strange mixture of joyfulness and utter regret in this work which dates from 1827, the year before his death. We were fortunate enough to have seats in the front row (through my connection as collaborator of LuccaMusica – see ) and the music truly became part of our whole conscious being. We could have not wished for a better performance. The Trio di Parma is the true successor of the legendary Trio di Trieste, (whose recording of the same work I am hearing as I write this).

Holiday music permeated with great blissfulness and with deep nostalgia; music with quickly alternating light and shade as strange sonic cloud formations hover over its notes; music of the inmost weather of the human soul touching every fibre of our cognizance…. for forty odd minutes the audience heard transfixed by a superlative performance.

How could Schubert better himself with another piano trio, the one in Eb and practically his last work with a second movement that must be familiar to anyone who has seen Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’?

Though not as immediately spontaneous as the Bb trio, the Eb has moments of even greater intensity. There is a particular passage in that immortal second movement that blazes on the mind like some volcanic enlightenment. And the sad march-like tread of its main theme is almost like a slow walk, inevitably despairing, towards the goal each one of us must face – death, which came so early to Schubert, aged just 31, in 1828. For me it’s a sort of chamber music equivalent of a winter’s journey with the theme returning so surpassingly again towards the end of an apparently ebullient and complex final rondo.

Again, the Trio di Parma played the piece exactly as I had always imagined it should be played. Everything in their performance was beyond dispute and I suddenly realised that Schubert had been truly open to Italian influences, especially Rossini. How wonderful it would have been for musical history if he had been spared the medical mistreatment of the syphilis which finally finished him off and visited il bel paese.

Schubert loved life in Vienna – so much of his music is infused with the popular songs that would have been heard in the taverns and cafes of the day. It’s so often a sort of sublimated street-music. Schubert also enjoyed associating with those ladies who specialise in giving pleasure to men. I thought of ‘Death and the Maiden’, that transcendent quartet I’d heard last year played by the Quartetto di Cremona, another of the marvellous chamber ensembles that Italy has been so successful in producing and which one can hear at the Pieve’s festival.

As an encore for the enthusiastically clapping audience the Trio di Parma played the romantic slow movement from Schumann’s second piano trio – a work I’d never heard before. I was actually praying that they’d play more Schubert – his inspirational ‘Notturno’, which is generally reckoned to have been a first thought for the Bb trio’s slow movement – but the Schumann remained a fitting conclusion.

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The combination of an exquisite, quite isolated Romanesque church, the alternate panorama of sea and mountain and a piano trio of the highest quality, playing music seemingly transmitted by God to one of the greatest composers this planet has ever witnessed, made for another evening we shall never forget.

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PS Here’s a list of further concerts at the Pieve:


See also


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