Piano Trio No.1 in C minor, Op.8
Piano Trio, Op.24
Piano Trio No.1 in B, Op.8 [revised version]
Janine Jansen (violin), Torleif Thedéen (cello) & Itamar Golan (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 31 October, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
An impressively combative programme from (at least in the context of present-day ensembles) an unusually high-powered line-up, which brought together three of the most noted musicians on their respective instruments to play three works for piano trio – only the last being part of its repertoire – that confirmed both the difficulties and possibilities of the medium.
Not that the teenage Shostakovich was unduly concerned about these when he essayed what is now known as his First Piano Trio (1923) – a compact work which suggests at least an acquaintance with the one-movement piece by a similarly youthful Rachmaninov in its contrasts between nostalgic longing and sudden impetuousness, the 12-minute whole held together by a stealthy thematic cohesion. Whether the composer had initially intended further movements, he must have felt that the purposefulness of this work was such as to make additions unnecessary. The present account duly underlined without over-emphasising its expressive contrasts right through to the highly rhetorical ending.
The music of Mieczysław Weinberg has only recently begun to gain a hearing in the UK – notably with retrospectives in Manchester and Liverpool, and productions of his operas The Passenger and The Portrait. The Piano Trio (1945) has tended to lie in the shadow of his monumental Piano Quintet from the previous year yet, as this account made plain, there is nothing lightweight about a piece that references the Second Piano Trio of Shostakovich only in its deployment of Jewish elements rather than in any formal similarities. The opening ‘Praeludium and Aria’ moves from bracing energy to plaintive musing while utilising the same basic material, then the ensuing ‘Toccata’ builds an unstoppable momentum through a keen rhythmic virtuosity such as Shostakovich was to exploit in several of his string quartets. The ‘Poem’ is the emotional heart of the piece, and while the performers made of it a slow movement as is belied by its Moderato marking, the music’s gradual unfolding from numbed inwardness to plangent outpouring was as finely rendered as it was superbly controlled. It remained for the ‘Finale’ to bring together these expressive extremes, though its emotional acuity is such as to banish thoughts of easy resolution: notably with an ending as equivocal in its intangibility as could be imagined. An impressive performance, then, of a work whose communicative power needs no extra-musical justification of any kind.
Nor, of course, does the First Piano Trio (1854) of Brahms – whatever its genesis in the composer’s association with the Schumanns and the crisis that enveloped them around this time. Admittedly the work was heard in its 1889 revision, in which the mature composer tempered many of his formal and expressive audacities – yet comparison with his two ‘later’ trios confirms that the present version sacrificed none of the original’s innate expansiveness and emotional breadth. The present account ensured this in any case – the opening movement (exposition repeat observed) unfolding in expansive paragraphs and with a felicitous detail that could only be called Schubertian, while the scherzo already shows signs of those intermezzo qualities that were to inform many subsequent such movements. The Adagio is comparable to that of the First Piano Concerto in its harnessing rapt introspection with starker emotions, and then the finale brings a lilting unease to its main themes that only intensifies as the movement strides on to its decisive though hardly affirmative conclusion.
Another fine performance of an intensity and expressive scope as cannot be taken for granted in an era overly concerned with ‘authenticity’ in ensemble and articulation. Should these performers (suitably augmented) return to Wigmore Hall with a double bill of piano quintets by Weinberg and Brahms, one can only regard the prospect with keen anticipation.