Piano Trio No.1 in B, Op.8 [revised version]
Butterflies Remember a Mountain
Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello) & Alexei Grynyuk (piano)
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 7 September, 2015
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
With Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach still ringing majestically in my ears from Saturday night, I did wonder how I’d take to another cellist so soon, especially as the cello takes the lead in the opening movement of Brahms’s B-major Piano Trio. I needn’t have worried with Leonard Elschenbroich and his Matteo Goffriller ‘Leonard Rose’ instrument dating from 1693. His is a refined and sweet tone, ideally suited to Brahms’s expansive romanticism, where Allegro is never pushed too fast.
Elschenbroich was matched with partners of seven years standing, Nicola Benedetti and Alexei Grynyuk. Curiously the programme announced that the Trio was making its Proms debut, but reference to the Proms Archive confirms a previous appearance Cadogan Hall, on 13 August 2012. Then the musicians played Brahms’s Opus 101 Piano Trio; this afternoon in 2015 they moved both two years later (to 1889, when Brahms made his wholesale revision of Opus 8) and, in essence, some thirty years earlier to 1853/4 when – just into his 20s – Brahms originally conceived the work.
We know what a febrile burst of energy Brahms was at that early age: bursting in on Robert and Clara Schumann and thereby announcing himself to the world. This youthful trio of musicians can match such ardent brio, but also has the maturity of Brahms’s second thoughts. They meld together into a cohesive whole, anchored by Grynyuk’s contained but expressive piano-playing (his facial expressions imply that he’s very much living the work), while Benedetti’s Stradivarius (from 1717) is a fine match for Elschenbroich’s cello.
And if this Piano Trio was not enough Brahms, at the end of the recital – for an encore – we were treated to the Andante from the Opus 101 Trio; an exquisite farewell not only to the concert, but also this year’s Proms Chamber Music lunchtime recitals. Before going live on Radio 3, presenter Petroc Trelawny had referenced Edward Blakeman’s 20 years planning these concerts, first at the V & A Lecture Hall and – for the last decade – at Cadogan. One of the most far-reaching new initiatives in the Proms, it has allowed a focus on chamber and instrumental repertoire that has still been relatively underexplored by the Proms.
Otherwise it was Arlene Sierra’s intriguingly entitled Butterflies Remember a Mountain (2013) – taken from a scientific headline about migrating Monarch butterflies still diverting their route over Lake Superior because millennia ago their way was blocked by a mountain. Sierra said she liked the haiku-like brevity of the headline and proceeded to compose – at Elschenbroich’s request – a short three-movement work, where the movements follow the title exactly: Butterflies; Remember; A Mountain.
From the whispering and whirring of the opening, over Ravel-like piano splashes (Sierra acknowledged the influence of this composer) before the violin takes flight, to the more minimalist repetitions of the finale, via the more thoughtful and nostalgic second movement – low cello pitched against high violin – this is a most involving work. This Prom epitomised the scope of the Proms in upholding the musical traditions of the past alongside the presentation of the new.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms