The Rosamunde Trio – Musical Musketeers

Written by: Bill Newman

Bill Newman talks to the members of the Rosamunde Trio about past styles and future directions…

The essence of a great performance is matching skills, preparation, teamwork and balance, so it is no real surprise that a number of chamber groups are claiming top positions among the popularity stakes. Most of them perform regularly at London concert venues, steadily building and spreading their repertoire on a European basis. It brings them glowing praises from audiences and a critical faculty that must welcome the fact that serious music-making has permanently extended its scope and interest into all kinds of territories. This parallels a wonderful industry and opportunities afforded to younger generations of students, professional performers and gifted, first-class musicians on a grand scale.

This is no longer a slow process of evolvement and recognition as in the 1950s-1980s, when performers brought rare glitz and glamour into music lovers’ lives, delighting alter egos and introducing standards of comparison. Today, reputations have finally outgrown commercial boundaries and opportunities for endless exploitation. Musicians are now more adept in running their own careers by combining their resources and expertise in endless globe-trotting, promotional appearances on radio and television and recording works of all kinds.

The Rosamunde Trio, comprising mature musicians, is of more recent origin. Pianist Martino Tirimo and cellist Daniel Veis were already old friends in the 1990s, and their Mendelssohn recording on Supraphon is one of my firm favourites. They had begun to look around for a violinist with whom to form a trio, and Veis had recently met and heard Ben Sayevich. Sayevich was approached and gleefully accepted, and in 2002 the new ensemble came into being. As Tirimo proudly admits: “We are completely different personalities who knit together perfectly when we start playing”. One thinks back to Cortot-Thibaud-Casals and Rubinstein-Heifetz-Piatigorsky, but Tirimo is the musicologist-performer whose complete Schubert Piano Sonatas, based on the Urtext Edition, has brought him world-wide praise and recognition. Likewise his recordings, which include works by Mozart, Debussy, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Chopin, Tippett and Janáček. During eight memorable recitals at London’s Cadogan Hall, Mozart’s mammoth child-to-adult output took on a real freshness to the constant delight of all who attended. I noted Tirimo’s every re-appraisal between these performances and his recordings. “It must and always will be a new approach and challenge each and every time.”

Martino and I had known one another for a long period. Ben and Daniel I had only talked with after their trio’s performances, the first opportunity coming at a private house off Langham Place (in Central London). The programme: Haydn’s ‘Gypsy Rondo’ Trio, Brahms in C major, Opus 87 and Schubert in B flat. I raved about everything except the Schubert, which I found heavy and lacking in nuance. Their faces registered dismay.

Subsequently they reprogrammed it with other works in a University College London lunchtime concert. Wonderful! Ben was stern and quizzical: “I don’t understand. You didn’t like it last time we played it”. I explained why I did, second time round, and when he pretended to walk away Martino furiously whispered: “Don’t you agree that we are improving each time you listen?” Something of an understatement seeing that I was beginning to worship the space they occupied when performing. The ice was completely broken. Subsequently came the first of two concerts at Conway Hall. Early afternoon, I had listened to the Guarnieri Trio broadcast from the Wigmore Hall and thought the musicians musical but rather tired. In contrast, the Rosamunde’s evening event was a revelation with Dvořák’s Trio in F minor (Opus 65) outstanding.

Ben is Lithuanian-Israeli, a damn nice guy with an impish countenance and a razor-sharp mind. Daniel produced an enlarged photo of him when they first met which showed a Capone-like allegiance. “Honestly, could I seriously regard him as a musician?” A pupil of Dorothy DeLay, Eric Rosenblith (with fondness and reverence) and Louis Krasner, Ben was singled out by the dedicatee of the Berg Violin Concerto to perform the work. How? “Oh, Krasner started to play bits and pieces – this sonata, that concerto, short salon favourites, even one of his own improvisations – telling me to think about their phrasing and expression. He worked towards handling various episodes in the Berg to get a gradual feel for the music itself, adding that he considered me the man for the job…”. Sayevich was soloist at the Boston Festival in celebration of the composer’s 100th-birthday. He performs on a J.B. Villaume instrument (Paris, 1847), is currently leader of the Accorda Quartet and a professor at Kansas University.

Prague-born Daniel won the First Prize at that city’s 1976 Spring International Competition and the Silver Medal at the 1978 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. A frequent soloist with the Czech Philharmonic and other major orchestras, he is a prolific recording artist – his discs include the complete cello works of Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Martinů, as well as much contemporary music. A professor and vice-dean of the Music Academy of Performing Arts, Prague, Daniel enjoys masterclasses and serving on juries at international competitions. He performs on a G.B. Guadagnini cello (Milan, 1754). My first impression was of his depth of concentration, reflected mainly in the eyes as he considers a question and how to best answer. He is also adept at reversing the procedure, as I found with his summary of my own concern that the Škampa Quartet members (and some others) now choose to perform standing up, recreating a procedure from past years. “If they see other quartet performers doing this, it goes straight to their heads. They must do the same!” The Škampa Quartet has had a string of past cellists – all trained by Veis – who now perform with other quartets. He looked ascance at my description of the present incumbent of the post seated on a raised plinth, arms extended like a giant albatross! A superb musical-technician, I praised Daniel’s mastery of the second movement of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio in which the cello line (ff- fff) has to cope with an unrelated, atonal sequence beneath the changing tonal part of his violin colleague. Veis’s reply was typical: “It’s a good movement!”

Some process of past evaluation was thought necessary and carried me out again the following day to Streatham Hill and the Tirimo residence where his two musical colleagues were also staying. Martino knows already my own preferences for pianists of an older generation who entered the scene during the early 1900s and were still performing some 70 years later. International performers like Lev Pouishnoff, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Mark Hambourg, Jan Smeterlin and Alfred Cortot, all of whom I heard live, somewhat past their technical prime but with their musicality still intact. It was once said of Paderewski and Cortot that they played more wrong notes in Liszt and Chopin than any of their contemporaries yet conveyed a true poetic meaning by stroking the keys and caressing the notes to make them sing. With Hambourg it was the breaking of piano strings, but a commanding pedal mastery allowed him to bring an audacious realism to the colorations and rhythmic inflections of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies and Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata.

Whether by intention or otherwise, it was our two string players who sought to pursue this topic with me, following Daniel Veis’s nominating the legendary Vlach Quartet as his top choice among chamber groups. The marketing policies and decisions of music promoters, record companies and critical experts is very much sought after by today’s performing artists and concert audiences in determining the right directions to follow, and we discussed teachers and pianists of the calibre of Dmitri Bashkirov, Mikhail Pletnev, Nikolai Demidenko, as well as violinists David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Jascha Heifetz and Isaac Stern, and their influences on the younger generation. The choice of artists, by the way, was theirs! Conversely, Ben Sayevich informed me that the most acceptable way of discouraging interest in undesirable performers is: “Well, you know what to expect – you’ve heard them already!”

The Rosamunde Trio’s new CD is an unusual coupling of Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A minor and Shostakovich’s Trio in E minor (Alto ALC 1005). For a number of years Heifetz and his colleagues Rubinstein and Piatigorsky had that status of pre-eminence while Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin with Maurice Eisenberg (Biddulph) offered a more nostalgic alternative for the Tchaikovsky. A choice of Russian Melodiya artists commanded the scene in the Shostakovich. Now, a marvellous musical balance is achieved in these new versions, with a sense of calm tragedy and poignancy from each artist in the Tchaikovsky and a phenomenal accuracy of pitch and precision in the Shostakovich – follow the thematic take-over of instrumental lines in the introduction alongside the detailed clarity of the recording. Immediately these recordings become the ‘number one’ choice.

  • The Rosamunde Trio performs at Wigmore Hall on Sunday 11 March 2007 at 7.30
  • Wigmore Hall

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