Tchaikovsky, Smetena: Piano Trios CD review – sparkling and heartfelt
Trio con Brio Copenhagen
Grief and anguish unite these lyrically expressive trios. Tchaikovsky subtitled his “In memory of a great artist”, his friend and mentor Nikolai Rubinstein, while poor Smetana wrote his after the death from scarlet fever of his four-year-old daughter Bedřiška. But that’s where their similarity ends. Tchaikovsky’s trio is monumental, unique in the repertoire; Trio con Brio Copenhagen scale its heights with the verve their name suggests, pianist Jens Elvekjaer sparkling in the brilliant set of 11 variations central to the piece. In contrast, the Smetana is brief but deeply heartfelt, the beauty of its bleak majesty perfectly captured by the Danish players. Recommended.
Enthusiastic applause for probably the most interesting piano trio of our time — Trio con Brio Copenhagen
In Joseph Haydn’s ‘Gypsy’ Trio every motif, every phrase, every figure, was accomplished with fingering that reflected perfection of technique and sensitivity to content. Pianist Jens Elvekjaer had such control over the concert grand piano that he never overwhelmed the strings, which for their part exhibited supreme delicacy and perfectly calibrated vibrato, blending with the piano into a crystalline and nuanced sonic scenario. Their performance brought to light even the smallest details of the music, and one forgot even to breathe as a new masterpiece seemed to be created from simple and familiar melodies.
In complete contrast to Haydn’s entertaining music was Bedrich Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, op.15, written after the death of Smetana’s four-year old daughter. It was here that the stylistic versatility of the Copenhageners became obvious. The players performed with probing seriousness and relentless precision, and were particularly harrowing as well in the soft, lyrical passages that are thought to be a remembrance of the dead. This was truly an interpretation of the highest artistic order.
In Franz Schubert’s late B-flat major trio, the brilliant soundscape that emerged allowed ample space for the expression of telling details in the broad and dynamic flow of the Allegro moderato. The second theme was a case in point, being performed not in the usual sing-song manner but instead with meaningful shape and spiritual urgency. The Andante was begun by Elvekjaer, whose rare gift for sound gave rise to magical chords that opened the door to a world of spiritual mystery and incredible beauty. One longed to become utterly immersed in the rapture of this movement—can it ever have been performed so well before?
The encore as well, the third movement of Dvorak’s ‘Dumky’ Trio, was radiant in its celestial purity—this was angelic music. Or to put it less romantically: all systems were go; ready for lift-off. An enthusiastic ovation for what is probably the most interesting piano trio of our time.”
****** [six stars]
Masterful Trio con Brio enthralls with lavish program.
To say that the three musicians of Trio con Brio Copenhagen are talented would be a gross understatement. They are masterful, and their concert Monday evening in Mogens Dahl Concert Hall enthralled in a way that only true art can do—literally: One was carried away to another place, and the music sang on in one’s mind in the hours after the concert, and still does.
The program was lavish. First, Beethoven’s fifth piano trio, opus 70 no. 1 in D major, the so-called “Ghost Trio.” The title refers to the second movement’s particularly expressive character. The two fast outer movements, Allegro vivace e con brio and Presto, paint a quite different picture. Here we encounter Beethoven in the midst of his heroic period. The two string players, sisters Soo-Jin Hong (violin) and Soo-Kyung Hong (cello) joined pianist Jens Elvekjær in this work with all the intensity and vigor one could wish for.
The Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström offered nothing less than a world premiere with his Four Pieces for Piano Trio. Lasting about fifteen minutes, the four pieces are a wonderful mix of tight Nordic minimalism in the style of his settings of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems (“Nordic Mass,” recently reviewed in this paper) and crystalline layerings of sound colors and rhythm. It was evident that Trio con Brio has a special feeling for this music.
After intermission came Tchaikovsky’s only piano trio, Opus 50 in A minor from 1882, a nearly 50-minute long work, originally dedicated to the composer’s good friend and founder of the Moscow Conservatory, Nikolai Rubinstein, who died in 1881. They did not spare themselves; Trio con Brio played this fascinating work with almost preternatural fire and involvement. They were visibly exhausted after their performance.
One wonders with gratitude: what it is that makes these three musicians so unique as an ensemble? If you go one level deeper than just tossing out the words “world class,” the answer, perhaps, lies in their particular mix of temperament—of which they show more than even the legendary trios on my CD-rack do—and transparency. Things can grow quite impetuous when they get going, but this rarely, if ever, overshadows the transparency of their playing. The big picture is never lost.
And this is where their artistry lies, more so than merely in their fabulous technique. Alive and kicking Beethoven, Sandström and Tchaikovsky—what a trio, what trios!
Translation of review in Kristeligt Dagblad, Copenhagen, April 15, 2015