Piano Trio in E flat, Op.1/1
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.32
Pizarro Trio [Artur Pizarro (piano), Raphael Oleg (violin) & Josephine Knight (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 11 November, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Anton Arensky holds an important place in Russian musical history, his tenure as a professor at the St Petersburg Conservatory overseeing the student years of Rachmaninov and Scriabin among others.
As a composer he has had more limited success, however, with his two most popular pieces, the Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky and the First Piano Trio being his only works to receive anything like regular performances.
The latter is a particularly heartfelt statement, and was given appropriate reverence by Artur Pizarro and his colleagues in this Sunday morning recital. Arensky’s writing for piano is frequently demanding, nowhere more so than in the scherzo, and here Pizarro was equal to the task in an effervescent display of florid scales, perfectly executed.
The warm, mellow sound of Josephine Knight’s cello was well suited not just to the slow movement ‘Elegie’ but also the mellow first movement theme. Raphael Oleg, while experiencing occasional problems with intonation, was also tuned-in to the darkly coloured first movement, careful not to over-sentimentalise its statements.
Echoes of Franck and Fauré are glimpsed in the thematic writing but Arensky’s melodic invention is all his own, and there are several distinctive themes competing for a place in the memory. Pride of place went to the scherzo, the pizzicatos and harmonics applied by the string players beautifully pointed as the piano ran amok.
Beethoven’s first essay in the piano trio medium is also playful in its scherzo, and has a wit elsewhere that recalls Haydn. While, in his piano trios, Haydn used the cello as an accompanimental device, Beethoven brings the strings noticeably forward in his slow movement, the warmth from Knight and Oleg emphasising this.
Pizarro displayed a particularly keen sense of ensemble in his balancing with the violin and cello, choosing the right moments to step forward or hang back. The result was a performance of wit and charm, its emotional heart the softly played but incisively felt slow movement.