The Rosamunde Trio Show Authority and Dignity but Not Enough Sparkle

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Brahms, Schubert: Rosamunde Trio (Martino Tirimo [piano], Ben Sayevich [violin], Daniel Veis [cello] Kings Place, London 12.11.2017. (CS)

Mozart – Piano Trio No.6 in G K564
Brahms – Piano Trio No.2 in C Op.87
Schubert – Piano Trio in B flat D898

The Rosamunde Trio gave the audience at Kings Place their money’s worth at this London Chamber Music Society recital, presenting three substantial trios which delineated the development of the piano trio form during the nineteenth century.

The three musicians, who are regular visitors to these London Chamber Music Society Sunday evening concerts, brought the composure, polish and understanding born of extensive and far-reaching experience to this performance.  Pianist Martino Tirimo had long enjoyed a musical partnership with cellist Daniel Veis when, in 2001, the latter met violinist Ben Sayevich and the seeds of the Rosamunde Trio began to germinate.  The ensemble was formed the following year, when the three musicians decided that, despite the practical difficulties – they were living in different countries, USA, UK and Czech Republic, and each had a career as an international soloist – they could come together and, in the words on their website, ‘develop a strong and individual expressive voice with something distinctive to communicate’.

This was the first time I had heard the ensemble perform.  My overall impression was that the Rosamunde play with unfussy and undemonstrative rapport, refined equanimity and technical assurance.  The combined string sound is clean and clear, the intonation utterly reliable, the phrasing thoughtful.  Veis has a strikingly flexible bow-hold and often lifts his bow far from the string, creating airiness even when the bow stroke itself is quite firm and swift.  Sayevich shapes an elegant line and his E-string is lucid and pure.  The Trio seem happiest in quieter, more reflective passages, finding a gentle eloquence; at times the ensemble became a little ragged in more energised episodes.  And, there was a prevailing problem with balance, particularly in the Mozart and Schubert trios where Sayevich’s violin was less commanding than it might have been, overpowered by a sonorous piano part (though I allow that my position on the far right of the Hall might have been responsible for this impression).  What I missed most, despite the consummate professionalism of the performance, was a communication between the players, and been them and us, that pulsated with more involving directness and vibrant immediacy.  The Rosamunde were certainly poised, the serene surface remaining unruffled, but at times I found myself wondering, where was the dynamic emotion?

The first item was the last of Mozart’s piano trios, the G major trio written in 1788.  The Allegro was unwaveringly ‘polite’, the piano announcing the light-hearted first theme before it transferred to the strings whose up-bow spiccatos danced airily.  Though the piano often introduces new material, it is subsequently shared between the players in an equal conversation, and the balance problem hindered the textural variety and exchange at the start.  The move to the minor tonality for the development section might have prompted a little more darkness and drama, just as the beautiful Andante, a theme and variations, might have had more variety of colour and contrast – the eerie, ethereal pianissimo of the penultimate variation, say, which is pushed aside by the registral range and richness of the last.  That said, the players captured the effortless elegance of Mozart’s theme; Tirimo’s triplet accompaniment in the third variation was pleasingly even and crystalline.  The Allegretto was disturbed the unfortunate intrusion of a noisy piano mechanism, but the bucolic rondo closed with delightful delicacy.

Brahms’ C major piano trio was composed almost thirty years after his first B major trio of 1854.  The years 1880-82 were a time of professional and financial success for Brahms, as the first two symphonies confirmed his eminence as an international composer, and personal happiness as he acquired mature self-assurance.  His confidence can be witnessed in the words to his publisher which accompanied the score of the Second Trio: ‘You have not yet had such a beautiful trio from me and very likely have not published its equal in the last ten years.’

There is a new leanness about Brahms’ language in this Trio, which is evident in the unison which opens the Allegro, allied with a great expansiveness.  This muscularity seemed to suit the Rosamunde Trio’s temperament, with Sayevich’s E-string melodies sculpting strong, smooth lines and the piano conveying a spirit of Romantic optimism.  Sayevich and Veis cohered assuredly as they were pitted frequently against Tirimo’s sweeping piano gestures.  However, given the sleekness which prevails even as the material blossoms, I’d have liked the insistent cross-rhythms which tug the music this way and that, creating dynamic momentum from contradiction, to make a more emphatic mark.

The astonishing diversity of the Andante con moto, in which two contrasting themes – one syncopated, the other gypsy-tinged – are varied, presents structural and expressive challenges.  The Rosamunde offered much to admire: tender lyricism, especially from Veis, swaying propulsion from Tirimo, and touching simplicity at the close, but overall the movement has deeper contrasts of light and darkness than were found.  In the Scherzo: Presto Tirimo burbled skittishly beneath the strings’ tiptoeing spiccatos before the warm expansiveness of the trio section offered welcome relief from the nerviness of the scherzo.  Such impetus spilled over into a Finale: Allegro giocoso which seemed to begin in media res, the pulse racing with energetic boisterousness.  The Rosamunde didn’t quite sustain the breeziness, the hefty coda weighing things down a little, but they seemed to have found much pleasure in their music-making when they reached the movement’s light-hearted conclusion.

Another mighty monument of Viennese chamber music followed the interval: Schubert’s piano trio in B flat (1827).  There were some ensemble problems in the exposition of the Allegro moderato, marring the conviviality which springs from the opening outpouring of lyricism; in the second theme, too, Tirimo seemed to be pushing just fractionally ahead of the strings.  But, these issues were ironed out in the repeat of this section, though I still thought that the Rosamunde were striving for majesty, rather than the joie de vivre – even, at the conclusion of the movement, mischief – that I hear in this music.  In the development, the players were keen to explore the expressive nuances of Schubert’s sometimes wayward harmonic forays.

The Andante’s flowing melody was, characteristically, tastefully and carefully phrased – Sayevich’s tone in particular was a soothing balm – but this was one of the places where I thought that a greater freedom – additional time and space – would have communicated the expressive depth more compellingly.  The accents and dots were all ‘in the right place’ in the Scherzo: Allegro conjuring the springy elasticity of Schubert’s dance rhythms.  The busy Rondo occasionally felt a bit messy and Veis’s C-string a little gruff, but this observation is perhaps a little mean-spirited as we had been offered much admirable music-making in this long concert.  And, the players did not flag during Schubert’s sprawling last movement, the conclusion of which was greeted with appreciative applause from the large Kings Place audience.  The Rosamunde generously offered an encore, from Dvořák’s Dumky Trio.

The Rosamunde Trio undoubtedly play with great authority and dignity; on this occasion, though, I’d have like these qualities to have been complemented by a little more animation and sparkle.

Claire Seymour

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