Trio Makhtin/Kniazev/Berezovsky

Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor
Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op.67
Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50

Dmitri Makhtin (violin), Alexander Kniazev (cello) & Boris Berezovsky (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 9 September, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Rachmaninov wrote Trio élégiaque No.1, a single-movement work, aged 18, in his last year at the Moscow Conservatoire. The piano states a luscious theme, the strings accompanying minimally. The piano withdraws while the cello plays the theme; then the violin. An agitated section drawing on Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony follows. The Romantic theme returns. Each instrumentalist plays it – in a different sequence from before and with some variation. Structurally, then, the work is very simple.

This early work introduced the three soloists in an effect that was enraptured and entrancing. Each playing of the main theme took on a slightly different character as the three introduced their collective talents expertly but modestly, in collaboration.

Shostakovich wrote Piano Trio No. 2 in memory of his great friend Ivan Sollertinsky who died suddenly aged 41 and, also, in memory of the Jews who died during the Holocaust. His inspiration is, thus, both private and public. From the eerie opening – in which the cello whispers in harmonics – to the quietened ending to the third movement, Makhtin, Berezovsky and Kniazev gave a magisterial performance. The scherzo was hectic and savage; the third movement, introducing Jewish themes, was angry. This is an unusual emotion for music to express – exalted, sustained, righteous anger … anger at white heat. The playing was very grand, very public – and monolithic. There was great dignity and humanity in the sheer size of its stately loudness. Berezovsky excelled himself here.

I was much moved. To my hearing, this was Shostakovich, usually a very private man, going public on a big, broad scale. My companion dissented, expressing distaste for ‘this style’ of Russian playing – namely, thrusting the music in our faces blatantly, almost vulgarly, with no light and shade. He particularly disliked Berezovsky’s bombast in passages played louder than may have been demanded.

There was a change of programme, decided upon 20 minutes before the concert began, apparently. We were to have had Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque No.2, written ‘in the memory of a great artist’ (Tchaikovsky). Instead, Berezovsky announced, the musicians would play Tchaikovsky’s two-movement Piano Trio, similarly inscribed (to Nikolai Rubinstein). This change was in honour of Luciano Pavarotti’s death.

The musicians then launched into a vigorous rendering of Tchaikovsky’s turbulent, wayward score. Several times it does lose its way, but there are moments of beauty and refinement here and there – plenty of light and shade. The playing was agreeably subtle and, especially from Berezovsky, of great delicacy. In the second movement a pastoral variation was refreshing and peaceful, while the gothic baroque which followed was harsh and invigorating. The long pause before beginning ‘part B’ suggested a third movement was about to start. Berezovsky produced a resounding bell tone, heralding the brief, eloquent snatches of a funeral march with which the work ends – silkily, movingly.

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