Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio, Musica Viva International Concert Season 2018, Llewellyn Hall, November 15, 7pm.
The publicity for the recent Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio concert asked: "When is a trio not just a trio? When it is this one, comprising three stellar soloists".
The star status of the three musicians determines that the individual performances are exceptional, but the trio does not create the music made by an ensemble who always play together. Theirs is the collaborative music made as a contrast to the demanding life of a soloist, and as such it has unique spontaneity and risk-taking; quite different to the precision and carefully honed sound of a permanent chamber group.
Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C major, Op 119, written in 1949 was a dark work with which to open the evening. Composed in a time of Stalinist control of the arts, the Cello Sonata voices Prokofiev’s unease arising from the oppressive cultural environment. The sombre, fractured nature of the first movement introduced the audience to the composer’s anxiety and the next two movements, despite the increasing pace, never dispelled the underlying apprehension.
To my ears, the voicing of the Steinway was too harsh – probably more a technical issue than one created by the pianist, Alexi Grynyuk, but because Elschenbroich’s cello also sounded brutally abrasive in the lower register, perhaps this was a conscious decision by the musicians to depict Prokofiev’s dark emotional state by accentuating a rougher interpretation. The effect certainly made for uneasy listening.
In contrast, Nicola Benedetti leapt into the stratosphere with her performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No 2 in D major. I assume she was playing the Gariel, made in 1717 by Stradivarius. The tone she drew from the violin bore testament to many hours perfecting the connection between musician and instrument. Dazzling navigation of registers and tempo changes in the opening movement paved the way for playful, spectacular spiccato phrasing and pizzicato punctuation of the Scherzo and the final Allegro con brio.
Prokofiev’s ability to illuminate the upper register of the violin with sparkling, crisp brightness is second to none. Grynyuk’s accompaniment complemented the dazzle of the violin with evocative textures. The Sonata may have been first composed for the flute, but Benedetti has conquered it in the name of the violin.
I thoroughly enjoyed Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde Piano Trio No 2. The spaciousness of the composition allowed the voice of each instrument to resonate individually and in relation to the others, through a series of apparently simple gestures. It was like experiencing an ice storm of clean sounds, washing through the mind and creating room for close listening. Interweaving harmonics and the final icy trills of violin and cello brought the piece to a delicate close.
Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor, written in 1914, showed the ensemble at its strongest. Beginning with melancholy longing, the contemplative first movement resolved into the exotic Pantoum of the second movement with strong string unison passages. The hymn-like Passacaille was a calm interlude before the final movement, in which the trio revealed Ravel in his finest impressionistic style, conjuring an image of the spring wind gusting a thousand petals to fly in the sunlight.