From Duo to Quintet — ETH Zurich, 2018-10-23


2018-11-05 — Original posting


Semper-Aula, ETH Zurich, 2018-10-23

Yakovleva, Yakovlev, Sivkov, Mizera, Tereshchenko, Dalvit-Saminskaya

From Duo to Quintet:

Schubert / Strauss / Amani / Handel

4-star rating


Marina Yakovleva, Mikhail Yakovlev, Kateryna Tereshchenko, Lev Sivkov, Dariusz Mizera — ETH Zurich, 2018-10-23 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Marina Yakovleva, Mikhail Yakovlev, Kateryna Tereshchenko, Lev Sivkov, Dariusz Mizera — ETH Zurich, 2018-10-23 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Introduction

Organizing concerts isn’t always easy. There is the imminent threat of an artist falling ill, or otherwise not making it to a concert. And the more artists there are in a concert, the bigger the chance for such incidents. No concert organizer is immune against last-minute changes in a program. This time, the series “Musik an der ETH” was affected with its concert at the Semper-Aula at the ETH in Zurich.

The announcement called for a program “From Duo to Quintet”. The idea was that of a crescendo, i.e., starting with a duo (a transcription of Handel’s Passacaglia), and, after a trio and a quartet, ending with Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. It turned out that the pianist in the original announcement, Dmitri Demiashkin, couldn’t make it to the concert. Apparently, at short notice it was not possible to locate a replacement artist who would perform both the Strauss quartet and the Schubert Quintet. Still, the organizers managed to maintain the original program, now with two pianists jumping in. And the program ended up backwards, as a decrescendo, i.e., “From Quintet to Duo”:

Program

Artists

On top of the one Russian composition (by Nikolai Amani), from the artists alone, there was a strong “Russian accent” in this concert:

Biographies

The siblings Marina Yakovleva Häfliger and Mikhail Yakovlev often appear as a duet (two violins or violin & viola). They grew up and had their initial violin education in St.Petersburg. Marina completed her studies in Sion and in Lausanne. She currently is a member of the Philharmonia Zurich. Her brother Mikhail (Misha) is first violinist in the Basel Symphony Orchestra.

The cellist Lev Sivkov grew up in Novosibirsk. At age 19, he moved to Stuttgart, studying with Conradin Brotbek and Jean-Guyhen Queyras. He followed the latter to Freiburg, where he is continuing his studies. He plays an instrument by Miremont et fils from 1880.

The Polish double bassist Dariusz Mizera studied in Poland. He has held positions in various orchestras on Poland, Sweden and Denmark. He is currently teaching in Neuchâtel (Switzerland), and he also is a member of the Philharmonia Zurich.

Kateryna Tereshchenko (Katerina Tereschenko) is a former student of Konstantin Scherbakov at the ZHdK (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / Zurich University of the Arts). She holds a Master degree in Master Specialized Music Performance, Chamber Music, and Liedgestaltung.

The pianist Nadya (Nadezhda) Dalvit-Saminskaya grew up in Moscow, where she also received her first education on the piano, graduating with an award in 2001. She continued her studies with Konstantin Lifschitz at the Hochschule Luzern. There, she received a Master degree in 2011. Nadya has since become an avid chamber musician, performing with various ensembles throughout Europe. And she currently has a busy piano teaching schedule in Zurich.


Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major, op.114, D.667, “Trout”

The Composition

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) composed his Piano Quintet in A major, op.114, D.667, “Trout” in 1819, at age 22. The publication of the work, however, did not happen until 1829, a year after Schubert’s death. This is maybe the most well-known piano quintet of all times. And it is special, in that it is not for standard string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello) and piano. Rather, the four string instruments are violin, viola, cello, and double bass. This gives the work a very special, “broader” sound. The five movements are

  1. Allegro vivace
  2. Andante
  3. Scherzo: Presto
  4. Andantino – Allegretto
  5. Allegro giusto

The surname “Trout” is from the fourth movement. That’s a set of variations, where the theme is from the popular Lied “Die Forelle” (The Trout), op.32, D.550, from 1817.

The Performance

As mentioned above, the artists in this opening composition were Marina YakovlevaMikhail YakovlevLev SivkovDariusz Mizera, and Kateryna Tereshchenko, see the photo above.

Let me start with some general remarks which apply to the entire concert. With the one obvious exception (Dariusz Mizera), all artists have Russian roots. Apart from Mizera, they all had their higher level musical education in Germany and Switzerland. Yet, all of them also have started their musical education in their respective home country. And undeniably, their Russian roots are still fairly obvious. Not so much from their playing technique (I’m talking of the string players), but in their expression, their generous emotionality. Big emotions from a big country!

Therefore, I did not come to this concert with the expectation to hear dry, academic playing. Already the Steinway D-274 concert grand in this venue stood for a big, harmonious tone, for a romantic view. The compositions by Strauss and Amani are romantic anyway. And Handel’s Passacaglia appeared in a late romantic transcription. Schubert’s popular quintet is universal enough to support a performance on modern instruments. That does not automatically imply a “conventional” performance, though!

I. Allegro vivace

The beginning of the movement is deceptive. Although in 4/4 time, the music feels alla breve, and almost adagio. Yet, here, already the first bars weren’t just “standing in expectation”. There was tension, and the ascending quaver triplets were full of energy, seemed to strive forward. Over the course of the introduction, that energy seemed to grow. When the middle voices started their regular quaver pattern (in bar 25), the movement was in full swing, the tempo very fluent, driven (but not excessively pushed) by both the violin and the piano. Throughout the performance, the latter was very virtuosic, agile, forward-leaning (which fitted the overall performance). At the same time, it felt effortless and clear. And the coordination in the middle voices (viola / cello) in their quaver motifs was perfect.

Sound, Expression, Virtuosity

And the sound! Both the piano, as well as the strings filled the venue with their big, full, rounded sound, supported and reinforced by the acoustics of the venue. As key characteristics of the performance I noted: flow, drive, momentum, big gestures / arches, expression (and expressive dynamics) filling, shaping every motif and phrase.

The movement seemed to accelerate throughout the movement. Actually, it must have been: by the end of the exposition, the tempo seemed almost neck-breaking in the piano part. The development part starts with a calm period. Needless to say that the calm didn’t last long! An amazing performance already in this first movement, enthralling throughout.

The exposition was not repeated. This could have been because of time restrictions. However, I could equally imagine that after all the dramatic build-up and acceleration over the exposition, the artists did not want to go back to the beginning and start again?

II. Andante

This obviously wasn’t the moment for a calm, reflective Andante. Yes, it was Andante, though a fluent one, intense, expressive and energetic throughout, full of youthful temperament. Here, mostly the piano seemed to drive the performance. This was most noticeable in the middle part: the piano alternates between parallel upward-jumping punctuations and descending triplet scales, while violin and viola play semiquaver triplet tremolo. Yes, Kateryna Tereshchenko was pushing a bit here. However, this still fitted the spirit of the performance.

In this movement, there are also segments where cello and viola play in an “internal duo”. The match, the coordination between the two voices was excellent, the sonority ravishingly beautiful!

III. Scherzo: Presto

In line with the initial movements, the Scherzo was more than just joking and fun. The annotation is Presto—and the music indeed was! Furiously fast (though the quaver motifs were still well-articulated), vehement, rabid, yet agile in the sforzati—and out of one single, energetic spirit.

Needless to say that the Trio couldn’t possibly be a calm, complacent episode, or a comfortable, Viennese folk tune. It was anything but simple—but again intense, and (fittingly) rich in expression.

IV. Andantino – Allegretto

Marina Yakovleva’s articulation in the Lied melody was relatively soft. The acoustics made it almost sound like legato. She put expression into every motif, with dynamic emphasis on the key-note. This made it sound like “belly notes”, or rather “belly motifs”. I usually don’t like this, as it easily sounds overblown. Here, however, it fitted the overall interpretation. As a little peculiarity, I noted that Marina did a double punctuation on the theme’s second note. I did not check what the manuscript says. It is certainly deviating from my score, different from how I have this “in the ear”, and definitely different from the Lied. The other punctuations followed the score. Schubert has a double punctuation in bar 3.

Variations I – V, Allegretto

The variations confirmed that the ensemble relied on dynamics more than on agogics to mark the climax of phrases and motifs. The second variation was on the edge of being overblown (see above). All the more, variation III contrasted with this: utterly fast and virtuosic on the piano, stunning, excellent playing! The piano sounded fast in its restless movement. It spontaneously reminded me of the Scherzo in Prokofiev’s second piano concerto! Yet, the tempo seemed still right for the theme melody in the strings. Variation IV seemed to follow a similar pattern: drive and the movement forward dominated over the indulging in details of phrasing and agogics.

Interestingly, variation V formed a stark contrast, seemed slower than usual. Or was this just because the previous variations were so fast? At this pace, the cello could play out its big, emotional sonority in broad articulation, with intense singing. The concluding Allegretto matched this with an expressive dialog between cello and the violin. That part was relaxed, though definitely not leaning back! The spontaneous applause indicated how much the audience liked the performance!

V. Allegro giusto

Apart from the “initial fermata“, the Finale started pretty fluent, and expectedly again full of drive and momentum. And yet, from the second part (f) on, the performance seemed to accelerate again, was gradually pushing forward. Again, I noted the outstanding, virtuosic and agile piano playing. Also this movement was performed with excellent coordination, out of a single spirit and mind, consequently moving forward towards an enthralling ending.

I called this the antithesis to a dry and academic “historic” performance. I sure do like HIP performances. However, this interpretation stood outside of the HIP debate, and I was absolutely thrilled!

Overall Rating: ★★★★½


R. Strauss: Piano Quartet in C minor, op.13, TrV 137

Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) wrote his Piano Quartet in C minor, op.13, TrV 137 in 1885, i.e., at a young age. The quartet has four movements:

  1. Allegro (4/4, 1/4=120)
  2. Scherzo: Presto (3/4, 3/4=104) — Molto meno mosso (3/4=54) — Tempo I
  3. Andante (4/4, 1/4=66 – 88)
  4. Finale: Vivace (2/4, 1/4=112)

I have previously written about a concert performance of this work at the Tonhalle Zurich on 2015-12-08.

The Performance

The artists here were Marina YakovlevaMikhail YakovlevLev Sivkov, and Nadezhda Dalvit-Saminskaya, see above.

I. Allegro

Clearly, as a composition, Richard Strauss’ piano quartet is way more demanding than Schubert, both for the artists, as well as for the listener. And the piano part comes with far more technical challenges. To me, the first movement, especially the bars up to the fff outburst were not quite as coherent and compelling as expected. Though, the artists certainly played with verve, with almost overflowing expression. Towards the end of the exposition, I noted some intonation issues where cello and viola are meant to play in unison. I’m not sure whether this was in parts due to an excess vibrato? Also the piano part wasn’t always entirely clear (rhythmic clarity and transparency is one of the features that I associate with this composer).

Where Strauss asks for con espressione, the vibrato on the first violin was sometimes really on the heavy side. And then it didn’t help the intonation. On the other hand, there were moments towards the end of the development part (pp) where the strings played almost without vibrato. And all of a sudden, the intonation was clean!

It’s very powerful music, very expressive, multifaceted—and highly demanding, not just for the pianist, but also for the ensemble as a whole.

★★★

II. Scherzo: Presto — Molto meno mosso — Tempo I

Another, extremely virtuosic movement, with blazingly fast motifs (especially on the piano). It requires utmost reaction speed and precision in coordination. Strauss’ writing / texture has helped the transparency. Still, I found that the performance had much more clarity here. And the coordination between the musicians was really excellent.

The Molto meno mosso part—a Trio of sorts—forms a strong contrast: calm, serene, clear, the contrary of a showpiece.

The Scherzo of course returns with its fun, the irony, the joking—and the virtuosity. A masterpiece, the stroke of a genius: true Strauss, and a true Scherzo, indeed! The artists even accelerated towards the end, as if to prove that they can do it even faster.

The movement ends with a short reminiscence of the Molto meno mosso part. And the final closure is a very short, fulminant Prestissimo. Brilliant music, excellent performance!

★★★★

III. Andante

A seemingly simpler, calm movement. However, it is not without challenges: For example, in the highly exposed octave parallels between string instruments. Here, the smallest intonation error is immediately obvious. The musicians did very well in that respect. It certainly helped that in some of these passages the artists played with very little or no vibrato at all. The musicians built up to a broad, expansive climax. They were then able to hold the tension, the suspense through the end of the movement. As already in the Scherzo, the piano part was precise, clear, excellent!

★★★★

IV. Finale: Vivace

The last movement followed quasi attacca. The start of the Vivace was extremely passionate, frantic, and virtuosic again. With its changing rhythms, the rapid semiquaver motifs, the tempo was at or beyond the limits in the acoustics of this venue. It was hard to follow, to identify the fast notes.

There is a rhythmic transition after [C], where Strauss writes “mit Laune” (with mood). I’m, not entirely sure how to read this: one might take this for “moody” (launisch), or perhaps as “humorous” (mit guter Laune)? The artists seemed to opt for “moody”. However, this transition was not entirely compelling.

After [D] (a tempo, ma molto tranquillo), there was a short period of beautiful, intense singing, primarily on the cello, but then also the other strings joined in, before the virtuosic main theme returned. And again, the piano score is extremely challenging, as often in Strauss’ chamber music. It’s a multi-faceted movement: more melodious segments follow, and there is even a point after [I], where Strauss appears to venture baroque fugato pattern. And it all ends with a fulminant, breathtaking, fireworks-like molto vivo conclusion.

The movement is definitely challenging not just technically, but also in terms of interpretation. As a composition, it did not seem quite as compelling and coherent as the other movements. I’m not sure to what degree to attribute this to the composition.

★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★½


Marina Yakovleva, Mikhail Yakovlev, Lev Sivkov — ETH Zurich, 2018-10-23 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Marina Yakovleva, Mikhail Yakovlev, Lev Sivkov — ETH Zurich, 2018-10-23 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Amani: String Trio in D minor, op.1 (1900)

The Composition

The Russian composer Nikolai Amani (1872 – 1904) grew up in St.Petersburg. His life was cut short by tuberculosis: he died in Yalta at age 32. From 1890 to 1900, he studied piano and composition at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. His teachers were Anna Yesipova (Анна Николаевна Есипова, 1851 – 1914), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908), and Anatoly Konstantinovich Lyadov (1855 – 1914). Amani’s oeuvre as composer is small. Among his works are piano pieces, songs, and the String Trio in D minor, op.1 from 1900. The work has four movements:

  1. Allegro moderato (3/4, ♩= 160) — Allegro (3/2, 1/2 = 112)* — Piu mossoTempo I
  2. Andante non troppo (C major) (3/4, ♩= 52)
  3. Intermezzo: Allegro scherzando (3/4, ♩= 144) — Meno mosso
  4. Finale: Allegro molto (4/4, ♩= 184) – Presto

*) The sheet music (individual voices only) is available from IMSLP. Note that the violin voice erroneously has  ♩= 112 for the Allegro. The correct metronome mark, ½ = 112, is indicated in the other two voices.

The Performance

Here, we were down to three artists: Marina YakovlevaMikhail Yakovlev, and Lev Sivkov, see above. The absence of the piano now completely changed the soundscape. As the work must have been new to everybody, I’ll focus on describing my impressions from the composition, more than from the performance. The latter of course continued on the very high level of the preceding works.

I. Allegro moderato – Allegro – Piu mosso – Tempo I

The opening movement starts in an earnest, gloomy atmosphere. It’s late romantic music, in a very personal style, even though harmonically, it sounds not too far from music by Debussy or Ravel. The artists’ expressive articulation seems a good match for the music with its lush, melancholic melodies.

The character of the piece changes with the Allegro. It is still earnest in character overall, but energetic, very expressive. Romantic melodies are glowing up every now and then, the theme begins with a catchy quaver motif. The movement is swaying in rhythm, even more so in the agogics, dynamics, and phrasing. Here, the music is farther from the French Impressionists. It is more personal, “Russian” in the tonality, the earnest, energetic, even dramatic attitude. With only three instruments, Amani manages to create a dense web of voices. The music is rarely homophonic. It rather features complementary rhythms and fugato-like moments. The ending is surprisingly short, after a brief, calm segment.

For the artists, the movement is quite challenging, both in intonation, as well as in coordination.

★★★½

II. Andante non troppo

The beginning feels “suspended”, restrained. It starts in A minor, then modulates away, and in bar 12, it reaches C major, in a serene atmosphere. Though, emotions soon re-emerge out of the low strings. The violin stands out with its dark sound on the G- and D-strings. The sound of the viola seems somewhat covered, less open, especially in p and pp.

Especially in the central part with its semiquaver passages, Amani again creates a dense web of voices, of melodies. However, the atmosphere remains serene, bright, harmonious. It’s beautiful music, almost more classical than romantic!

★★★★½

III. Intermezzo. Allegro scherzando — Meno mosso

An energetic movement in A major, truly scherzando, joyful, bright and happy. The movement often feels dancing. However, this is associated with frequent rhythmic shifting, so typical of Slavonic dance music. The middle part in D minor / F major adds a melancholic touch, but remains frisky. Both the music and the performance in this movement are virtuosic, coherent throughout: enthralling, overall!

★★★★

IV. Finale. Allegro molto – Presto

More dancing, more folk tone, a joyful piece in D major. It’s as if Amani meant to illustrate the motto “Per aspera ad astra“, or “From darkness to light”. What a journey from the earnest, melancholic beginning! The movement develops almost boisterous joy. It is enthralling, played emphatically—a true feast in folk dance that a short holding moment in the middle can’t stop. The ending is accelerating into a virtuosic whirlwind. The performance definitely deserved the frenetic applause: excellent, both the music, as well as the performance!

★★★★½

What a pity that the composer died so young!

Overall Rating: ★★★★


Handel: Passacaglia from the Suite in G minor, HWV 432 (arr. Halvorsen)

The Composition

In 1720George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) published a series of eight suites for keyboard instrument (harpsichord), under the name “Suite de pièce Vol.1“. The Suite No.7 among these is the Keyboard Suite in G minor, HWV 432. Movement No.6 in that suite is the well-known Passacaglia. In 1897, the Norwegian composer, conductor and violinist Johan Halvorsen (1864 – 1935) transcribed this movement for violin & viola.

Halvorsen essentially left the substance of Handel’s composition untouched. Yet, the transition from a baroque harpsichord to two string instruments causes a fundamental change in character, both in articulation, as well as in the possibilities in dynamics and expression. Expression on the harpsichord lives almost solely from differentiation in articulation (staccato, legato, portato, arpeggiando, etc.) and from detailed agogics. The string instruments add dynamics and a vastly different set of tools in articulation. He explores a vast variety of string techniques, from multi-stop passages, virtuosic pizzicato, flageolet and sul ponticello playing up to very fast runs and exchanges of motifs.

The Performance

Finally, the siblings Marina Yakovleva and Mikhail Yakovlev, an established duo, closed the concert with Handel’s Passacaglia. One could see this as an encore. It’s a piece which the two artists have had this transcription in their repertoire for several years.

Halvorsen starts ff and adds marcato marks. And the first variation (p, dolce) comes with crescendo and decrescendo marks in every bar: it’s obviously quite far from the baroque original. It retains the baroque texture, but Halvorsen’s romantic view in the string transcription justifies playing with lots of emphasis and intense articulation.

The performance was actually more than expressive and emphatic: it was equally virtuosic. Especially at the tempo which the two artists selected, accelerating already in the second variation (con agilità). Their playing left very little, if anything to wish for. One could easily feel the Molto energico and Allegro con fuoco annotations in the last two variations being applied to the entire set! A post-romantic (Paganini-inspired?) view onto a baroque “hit”!

Rating: ★★★★½


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