Intensity and sensitivity from Trio Isimsiz in works by Schubert and Dvořák

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Dvořák: Trio Isimsiz (Pablo Hernán Benedí,violin; Erdem Misirlioglu, piano; Michael Petreov, cello). Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 10.2.2017. (GPu)

Schubert – Notturno in E flat, D.897

Dvořák – Piano Trio in F minor, Op.65

Although it was over half a century ago, I remember a witty and cultured sixth form teacher saying, “Never trust a chamber ensemble which is named after one of its members. Such ensembles never have a proper instrumental balance.” Witty but not of course true; we can all think of many examples that contradict the assertion. I was, though, prompted to remember his aphorism, and to think about the ‘naming of chamber ensembles’ (on which an interesting essay might be written) when reflecting on this concert by Trio Isimsiz. Far from being named after one its members, this Trio, formed in 2009 when its members were students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, their name means “the Trio without a name”, ‘isimsiz’ being a Turkish adjective (the pianist of the trio is half-Turkish) for something which has no name.

The chosen name is peculiarly appropriate for this ensemble – their demeanour and stage deportment involving minimal direct engagement (by eye or voice) with their audience, which gives them a kind of self-contained impersonality. Their way of making music makes no effort (quite the contrary) to attract attention to themselves, avoids placing the three musicians too forcefully between the music and the audience, as it were. The members of Trio Isimisiz form a triangle on stage, which contains an intense mutual energy of concentration and communication, by the eyes, body language and breathing patterns. The audience is not excluded, but such ‘invitation’ as it receives comes from the music, not the performers.

This intense mutuality of focus served the Trio (and the music) very well in their performance of Schubert’s ‘Notturno’ (a name bestowed on it when it was published posthumously in 1845). This somewhat contentious slow movement, probably written in 1826 or 1827 and originally intended as the slow movement of the Piano Trio in B flat major (D.898) has provoked very different responses. Jack Westrup, for example, observed “one can only be thankful that Schubert rejected it. We know that 1826 was not a happy year for [Schubert]. He was again in poor health, and his attempts to secure an official position had not been successful. It may well be that the Adagio is evidence that his imagination was temporarily the victim of his misfortunes.” Others have had much more positive feelings about the piece and have been grateful (as I emphatically am) for its preservation. Like the Adagio of the String Quintet in C major (D.956) – with which it has affinities – this Adagio aspires, in the words of Richard Wigmore, to “a vein of timeless, contemplative ecstasy”; Wigmore also celebrates its “mesmerically sustained melody in close harmony”.

As played by Trio Isimisiz, the Notturno was striking for the intensity of some passages of sublime profundity, to hear which was to feel oneself at a place and moment when time seemed suspended, as if were at “the still point of the turning world”. Such ‘timeless moments’ exist in dialogue, as it were, with passages of busier, more vigorous writing, as in the first variation on the theme. This is quintessentially Romantic music, celebrating both energy and (primarily) stillness. The performance spoke eloquently of the quality of Schubert’s music – I am bewildered that Westrup could find in it evidence of a musical imagination ‘damaged’ by the composer’s “misfortunes” – it seems to me a beautiful and eloquent transcendence of human frailties and difficulties. But the performance spoke just as eloquently of how effectively the members of the Trio Isimsiz subordinated their own egos to the music. My only reservation related to some minor problems of intonation suffered by violinist Pablo Hernán Benedí (recently heard in the same venue as a member of the Chiaroscuro Quartet), though these were never so severe as to damage the group’s profound and sensitive reading of this piece.

Dvořák’s Piano Trio in in F minor, which formed the second (longer) part of this lunchtime concert, was, like the Schubert Notturno, written out of ‘misfortune’. It was written in February and March of 1883, i.e. in the months following the death of the composer’s mother in December 1882. At much the same time, Dvořák seems to have been in the throes of a particular musical tension, which he managed here to put to creative use, between his innate attraction to the use of his native folk traditions and, on the other hand, the desire (his own and other’s) that he should embrace a more pan-European idiom. Out of tensions personal and musical comes a piece full of conflicting moods and manners. The first movement (allegro ma non troppo) become an almost epic struggle of conflicting emotions – hope and despair, energy and exhaustion, elegy and anger. The dynamic range, from loud and grand to soft and delicate, is also remarkable. The second movement juxtaposes the cross-rhythms of a kind of furiant with a much more lyrical and soothing trio. In the wonderful slow movement the elegiac dominates, the turbulent emotional conflict having, for the moment, abated. Darkness and intense energy re-emerge at the opening of the last movement, though the succeeding presence of a sinuous waltz before is striking before the close expresses a calmer vitality and a kind of cathartic restoration of stability. Of this work, Ottokar Sorek wrote that it was characterised by “a kind of gloomy, passionate defiance. It is as though the composer confronted Fate with a stubborn and persistent – Why?” (in Cobbett’s Chamber Music, 1929).

Such a work calls, very obviously, for a different kind of sensitivity from that required by Schubert’s Notturno, but the Trio Isimsiz responded with an equal, if different, interpretative certainty, not least in the unanimity of attack with which they articulated Dvořák’s fiercely dancing rhythms and how they gave voice to the far greater contrasts in this later work. Having perfectly created for us the rhapsodic near stasis of the Notturno, now they embraced, with equal conviction, the constant changes of the Dvořák Trio.

These arresting performances by Trio Isimsiz put vividly before their audience (whose presence they barely acknowledged!) works perfectly expressive of two of the constant poles of Romanticism. Though they may call themselves the Trio “without a name”, these three young musicians, by the sensitivity and intensity of their performances, are rapidly making a considerable name for themselves – a name likely to grow bigger yet.

Glyn Pursglove

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