Argenta Trio | CD Cover

Song Titles - Listen to Excepts or Purchase Now

1. Trio in D minor, Op. 49: I. Molto allegro agitato
2. Trio in D minor, Op. 49: II. Andante con moto tranquillo
3. Trio in D minor, Op. 49: III. Scherzo: Leggiero e vivace
4. Trio in D minor, Op. 49: IV. Finale: Allegro assai appassionato
5. Song Without Words, Op. 53, No. 2
6. Trio in C minor, Op. 66: I. Allegro energico e con fuoco
7. Trio in C minor, Op. 66: II. Andante espressivo
8. Trio in C minor, Op. 66: III. Scherzo: Molto allegro quasi presto
9. Trio in C minor, Op. 66: IV. Finale: Allegro appassionato


Date: November 18, 2012
By: Scott Faulkner, M.M.
Affiliation: Executive Director and Bassist, Reno Chamber Orchestra, Principal Bassist, Reno Philharmonic, Author, “Reno, Nevada” Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition

To those who have never been here, Reno, Nevada is often not much more than a place parodied in movies and on TV, or a swing-state remote location on the national news every four years. A poor man’s Las Vegas, replete with sin, sagebrush, and not much else, Reno is either insulted or forgotten. But for those of us who choose to live here, conversations with colleagues from bigger cities almost always include a mention of our 300+ sunny days each year, the friendly people, our proximity to Lake Tahoe, and the revelation that we have a really great arts scene. Full stop.

Reno boasts two professional orchestras (Reno Chamber Orchestra and Reno Philharmonic), an internationally renowned chamber music festival (Nevada Chamber Music Festival), a nearly 50-year-old opera, a thriving ballet scene, and an amazing art museum. The list goes on. But when making the case for our wonderful artistic life, the Argenta Trio is Exhibit A. That the former concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony, a cellist of international repute, and the former solo pianist of the New York City Ballet would play a performance in any city would be noteworthy. That they would choose to live, teach and perform in Reno, Nevada says something much more.

Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, Dmitri Atapine, and James Winn comprise the Argenta Trio, the resident ensemble of the University of Nevada, Reno. These three are certainly known to music lovers in Northern portions of Nevada and California, and with their recent recording “The Piano Trios of Felix Mendelssohn,” (Bridge 9338), they are becoming known by a much wider audience.

Mendelssohn is one of those deceptively fiendish composers. If played correctly it sounds light and simple and charming. It has all the transparency of Haydn and Mozart, but with the increased muscularity, chromaticism, and velocity of music that would come after. To play this music, one must be in great technical and artistic shape. In the wrong hands Mendelssohn can be a painful experience for performer and listener alike. Many an orchestral auditioner has met his demise attempting to create pianissimo mid-summernight nymphs. There is simply nowhere to hide.

As difficult as Mendelssohn’s music can be to get right, in many ways it is the perfect repertoire for this sympatico trio. Sant’Ambrogio always plays with a passionate elegance and detailed commitment to melody and line. Atapine, with his huge, warm tone, is one of those rare musicians who performs each note as if his life depended on it. The two of them make a lyrical, nimble, and powerful string section that suits this music beautifully. And then there is James Winn. Whether creating musical snowflakes or unleashing blizzards of notes, Winn is a pianist’s pianist and musician’s musician. Helped here by the excellent sonics of producer David v.R. Bowles, Dr. Winn’s subtle control of tone color and sound quality, as well as the entire Trio's artistry, are shown to great advantage on this recording.

One need only listen to the Scherzo and Finale of the c-minor trio to understand the caliber of musicianship and cohesive ensemble playing this group possesses. That they have only been performing together for three years makes a listener lick his chops when considering what is in store.

On every level, “Argenta Trio: The Piano Trios of Felix Mendelssohn” is a success, and belongs in the CD collection of anyone who loves great music and wonderful playing. And the Reno city fathers and mothers should use it as the ultimate antidote to the stereotypes about what is wrong with our community, since this recording and this ensemble are in nearly every way so very right.

Date: October 24, 2012
By: Aloysia Friedmann
Affiliation: Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival

This is an inspired recording of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trios, romantic and lush in sound and passionate in interpretation. The D minor Trio is played with virtuosic flair, and the C minor Trio opens with mystery and a sense of urgency setting the tone for this lesser-played masterpiece. The Song Without Words, Op. 53, No. 2 is an additional gem performed with a sweet tenderness and sensitivity.

Bravo to the Argenta Piano Trio!

Date: October 4, 2012
By: Antonio Lysy, Professor of Cello
Affiliation: The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

By: Antonio Lysy, Professor of Cello

If you like…high spirits, intense intimacy, elegant and sweet textures, heart-felt sorrow, coquettish charm, surrounded by well-crafted architecture, you will find the [most recent] recording of [Mendelssohn’s Piano Trios] a very welcome addition.

The Argenta Trio's skillful and virtuosic account…continuously [lights] a fire of enthusiasm in the listener's ears.

…As a seasoned performer…I was …infected by the pure joy and sincerity of the Argenta Trio's interpretation. The warmth and passion of the strings' vibrato complement the piano's ability to sing and, in contrast, the brilliant and effervescent articulations in the piano mesh beautifully with the strings' crisp spiccato bow strokes. An old world charm [and] original touch are achieved [making] the listener long to go and hear this Trio live.

Date: July 17, 2011
By: Gary Meyer

In these studio recordings, the Argenta Trio has managed an amazing feat: duplicating the excitement of their electrifying live concerts. Their bravura playing is simultaneously emotionally dramatic, sonically ravishing, and musically profound. They elucidate these dense and florid scores with a rare combination of clarity, precision, and passion. The demands the players have made upon themselves, the standards they have set, are of the highest order. And they have achieved them. These performances stack up with anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Tempos range from brisk to terrifying in the scherzos, though obviously well within the players' comfort zone. What's striking isn't the speed - after all, many can play fast -- but the enunciation of every note, the etching of every detail. The subtle phrasing and shaping they achieve at these tempos is what makes them so thrilling.

The D minor scherzo performance well illustrates the rationale behind its breakneck pace. A complete comic opera in four minutes, it has such propulsive energy, such antic animation, that it practically demands an accompanying narrative. I imagine the piano as a fugitive child, merrily leading pursuing parents on a breathless chase. Papa cello even seems to protest at one point that he's getting woozy from all the scampering about. Likewise the D minor's finale builds on an insistent gypsy dance figure to a succession of blazing climaxes.

Slow movements and reflective interludes are equally effective, the trio's versatility evident in moving episodes of sweetness and pathos. In the finale of the C minor, they bring magisterial power to the statement of the chorale theme, a cosmic resolution of the work's wrenching conflict.

Sant'Ambrogio's violin soars in ringing, silver tones. Atapine's rich, soulful cello melds so well that together they sound like a single instrument with eight strings. Winn's pianism finds a novel approach to every passage so that even accompanying figures become dynamic and compelling. The three possess an instinctive rapport, a unanimity of apprehension and interpretation of these masterpieces. They treasure every aspect and every moment; it is their joy and gratitude for this music that make their performances unforgettable.

Date: June 14, 2011
By: Stephen Francis Vasta
Affiliation: MusicWeb International

Mendelssohn's basically sunny, untormented musical disposition has left him underrated relative to his early-Romantic contemporaries - for how can so cheerfully melodic a composer be important? His music utterly refuses even to acknowledge the shadow of Beethoven, which would so loom over Brahms. Salonish performances of his short piano pieces can leave a saccharine impression; the oratorios can suggest stodginess.

But the almost operatic drama of the D minor trio's Finale - suggested also by the C minor's dark opening theme - shows that Mendelssohn didn't ignore Mozart, at least. His through-composed scherzos - eliding sections, rather than marking them with full cadences - represent a structural advance on the rigorously tripartite Classical form. And even the composer's detractors don't deny his skilled craftsmanship - not only his assured handling of design, but his command of the small-scale elements within it: the dotted rhythms that generate impetus in the D minor's slow movement, for example, or the Lutheran chorale, introduced by the piano, that calms the restless motion of the C minor's Finale.

The Argenta Trio is an ensemble in residence at the University of Nevada. If I single out pianist James Winn from among them, it is because he brings such unobtrusive aplomb to the virtuosic piano parts. Arpeggiations, scales, shifting chord patterns - Winn carries everything off with dash, limpid articulation, and firm tonal weight while blending into the overall sonic-dramatic framework, except where the piano has the primary material, as at 3:48 of the D minor's opening movement. I'd have preferred a fuller violin timbre than Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio's, but her tone is clear and her phrasing consistently stylish, and she's impeccably in tune. Cellist Dimitri Atapine intones the opening phrase of the D minor mournfully - it's the kind of thing one relishes in chamber music - and brings a dusky warmth to other lyrical phrases, such as that at 1:33 of the C minor's Finale.

The Argenta players project Mendelssohn's larger designs clearly, while understanding how the details contribute to their success - note the way the players settle into the recap of the C minor's Andante espressivo at 3:59, and the clarity of the contrapuntal back-and-forth in the Scherzo of the D minor. The distinctive character of each passage emerges vividly: the cheerful bustle of the C minor's Scherzo, the sadness of the D minor's slow movement when the strings join the piano. Both slow movements, in fact, are the more moving for the players' forthright yet sensitive simplicity.

The one movement that doesn't work is the D minor's Finale, which seems to go on a bit too long, "telegraphing" a conclusion some minutes before it actually arrives. This might well seem the composer's shortcoming, rather than the performers', save that the Borodin Trio account (Chandos), which I've previously reviewed here, has no such problem.

I prefer that Chandos disc for its richer, more full-bodied conceptions. Still, the Bridge issue is pleasing, especially for Winn's superb pianism. And the Argenta adds an arrangement of one of the Songs without Words as a "breather" between the two major works. The chromatics could make the piece wilt and droop, but the players invest it with a tensile forward motion that stresses its agitation and downplays its sweetness.