United Kingdom Beethoven, Arensky, Rachmaninov, Brahms: Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch, Wigmore Hall, London, 20.1.2016. (RB)
Beethoven: Piano Trio in D, Op 70 No. 1 ‘Ghost’
Arensky: Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op 32
Rachmaninov: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor, Op posth
Brahms: Piano Trio No. 2 in C ,Op 87
The Trio Shaham Erez Walfisch was founded in 2009 and since that time they have released three recordings for Nimbus to much critical acclaim. They have recorded the Arensky and Rachmaninov trios which featured at this concert and they are due to release an all-Brahms double CD next month featuring the piano trios and double concerto. Cellist Raphael Wallfisch dedicated this concert to his mother Anita Lasker-Wallfisch who wrote a harrowing book describing how she survived Auschwitz by playing the cello in the camp orchestra and who is now celebrating her 90th birthday.
The trio opened their recital with Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio which, with its extraordinary expressive Largo, is undoubtedly one of the towering works of chamber music from the early part of the 19th Century. This was perhaps the least successful of the four works in the recital although there was still much to admire here. The opening Allegro had drive and vigour and there was a clear sense of structure throughout. The balance between the three performers was good and I liked the earthy quality they brought to the music. The wonderful Largo had a rich, expressive intensity and the playing was very assured. However, this is very innovative and ground-breaking music and I wondered if they might have used a wider range of dynamics and made more of the composer’s striking textures and colours – the playing seemed a little safe to me. I liked the interplay and playful quality the trio brought to the finale and some nicely tapered phrases conveyed a pleasing sense of Classical elegance. However, some of the passage work could have been cleaner and the overarching musical narrative conveyed more convincingly.
The first half concluded with Arensky’s First Piano Trio which was written in 1894 in the wake of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov piano trios. The work is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s friend, Karl Davidov, who was described by Tchaikovsky as the star of cellists. The players seemed more comfortable with this repertoire and Hagai Shaham and Raphael Wallfisch captured perfectly the soulful melancholy of the gorgeous melodies in the opening movement while Arnon Erez did an excellent job with the fanciful piano figurations. The scherzo was played with an elfin lightness of touch and a nicely understated sense of whimsy while the vamping waltz trio section was beautifully characterised. Wallfisch played the elegiac opening melody of the slow movement with exquisite beauty of tone – a fitting tribute to the great Russian cellist to whom the piece is dedicated. Shaham gave us some gorgeous sustained melodies in the major key middle section while Erez brought lovely Romantic colouring to the piano writing. The opening of the finale was impassioned and Shaham dispatched some of the virtuoso passagework with aplomb. The players were as one in their approach to the various shifts of mood and tempo in the movement before their thrilling rendition of the coda brought the first half of the concert to a conclusion.
Rachmaninov’s G Minor Piano Trio is in one movement and was written a year before the more famous D Minor Trio over a period of just four days. The G Minor was also marked ‘élégiaque’ although it is not clear who inspired the work as Tchaikovsky (in whose memory the D Minor trio was written) was alive when this work was composed. Erez excelled in Rachmaninov’s swirling virtuoso passagework, ensuring the string players were never overwhelmed and the balance of sound remained excellent throughout. The string players expertly sustained the composer’s long melodies although I would have welcomed a greater sense of rapture at the climax points and more heart on sleeve Romanticism – you have to really believe in this music for it to come alive. The work concludes with a sombre funeral march and the performers captured the sense of dark foreboding well.
The final work on the programme was Brahms’ C Major Piano Trio which was written in the early part of the 1880’s: it shows the composer at the height of his powers. The performers’ recent focus on Brahms paid dividends in what for me was the performance of the evening. There was an ease and fluency in the way all three players approached the constantly evolving thematic material in the opening movement. The textures were commendably clear and there was engaging interplay between the performers as well as imaginative exploration of the composer’s rich harmonies and inner voices. The variations of the slow movement unfolded in a seamless way and I particularly enjoyed the striking double stopping of the string players in the third variation and the tenderness and lyricism which the trio brought to the last two variations. The scherzo had a terse energy and exceptionally clear and tight articulation brought out the diabolism of the work. In the finale the performers brought a spontaneity and freshness to the music with the inventive nature of the material really shining through.
Overall, this was an evening of first rate music making and the performances of the Arensky and Brahms trios were exceptionally fine. As an encore the trio performed an arrangement of Kreisler’s March Miniature Viennoise.