United Kingdom Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert: The Sitkovetsky Trio (Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Wu Qian (piano), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), Wigmore Hall, London, 19.9.2013 (RB)
Brahms – Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op 101
Mendelssohn – Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op 66
Schubert – Piano Trio No. 2 in E Flat, D929
The Sitkovetsky Trio was formed in 2007 at the Menuhin School and they have garnered considerable critical acclaim over quite a short period of time and won a number of prestigious awards. The programme for this concert comprised three of the great masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire from the 19th Century.
Brahms’ C minor piano trio was written in 1886 and it is a concentrated and intense work full of big orchestral sonorities. The piano textures in the opening Allegro energico are particularly dense and complex and Wu Qian successfully conveyed the dramatic power of the piece while at the same time keeping the textures clear and light so as not to drown out the string players. All three players managed to convey the symphonic breadth of the opening but I wondered if the string players could have made a little more of the expressive warmth and rich harmonies in the second subject. The second movement’s presto non assai marking was scrupulously observed and there was excellent interplay between the strings. The Sitkovetskys evoked a warm Autumnal glow from the intermezzo third movement with Wu Qian giving us some exquisitely phrased and expressive playing. The fourth movement starts with a hunting rondo-type theme and it was played with gusto and rhythmic incisiveness by all three players before the arresting conclusion.
For those musicians who regard Mendelssohn’s music as superficial, can I please ask you to listen to the second piano trio? It was written when the composer was at the height of his powers, a year after the great Violin Concerto and the year before Elijah. It is a passionate and highly intense work that is full of original and highly engaging musical ideas. The performance from the Sitkovetsky Trio seemed to go up a notch with this piece, which started in a state of subdued but feverish excitement. The string players moulded Mendelssohn’s lyrical romantic phrases beautifully while Wu Qian played the intricate piano figurations with brilliance and refinement. In the Andante espressivo there was some sweet and sensuous playing from the strings with both players weaving elegant threads and traceries of sound, and using subtle rubato to underscore the gorgeous harmonic shifts. The gossamer scherzo was played very fast indeed and had the requisite lightness with all three players showing astonishing digital dexterity. I wondered if they might achieve an even greater degree of delicacy and refinement if they were to slow it down a little. In the finale the Sitkovetskys brought out the romantic ardour of the piece and there was very well executed interplay between all three players, while the coda was a blistering tour de force, bringing the first half of the concert to a thrilling conclusion.
Schubert’s late chamber works are among the most sublime pieces of music ever written and they demand the highest standards of musicianship. I am always slightly apprehensive when younger players tackle a work like Schubert’s Trio in E flat. However, I am pleased to report that the Sitkovetsky Trio confounded my expectations and gave an absolutely riveting account of this pinnacle of the chamber music repertoire. The opening Allegro was full of elegant Viennese charm with the two string players allowing Schubert’s immortal melodies to sing out. There was scrupulous attention to the composer’s dynamic markings while Schubert’s reflective, poetic voice was given space to breathe. The Andante con moto is a profoundly moving work – it was introduced to a wide mainstream audience in Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon where it features prominently. The dialogue between Alexander Sitkovetsky and Leonard Elschenbroich in the middle of the movement was absolutely gorgeous, while the fortissimo outbursts allowed the composer’s tempestuous emotions to spill out. I wondered if they might make a little more of the sense of poignancy and heartbreak in the coda – this music is really very special. The third movement canon was light and deft with the Sitkovetskys playing with an impressive degree of clarity. Schumann referred to the “heavenly lengths” of Schubert’s great C major Symphony but the same phrase could equally apply to the finale of the E flat Trio which is conceived on a vast scale. The opening theme was allowed to dance along archly while Qu Wian’s played the swirling and complex passagework with incredible dexterity and lightness of touch. The Sitkovetskys allowed the composer’s infectious high spirits to shine through banishing all the feelings of self-doubt before driving the work to its conclusion.
Great playing from the Sitkovetskys – they are clearly chamber music stars of the future.